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Allergy Today: COVID-19 and Allergies

At the time of writing, New Zealand is in a very fortunate position. There is no evidence of community transmission of COVID-19, and new cases are only in those who have recently arrived in the country. In spite of a pandemic raging around the world, we are able to go about our daily lives pretty much as normal.covid-19-502-845

However, as we are all aware, the risk is still great and will continue to be until a vaccine is widely available. For those living with allergies, there are lots of questions, such as:

  • Does having allergies mean my immune system is compromised?
  • What can I do to minimise the risk of catching the virus?
  • I have asthma – what should I do?
  • Are my symptoms – e.g. sneezing or runny nose – caused by an allergy, or possibly COVID-19? Should I get tested?
  • Is soap or hand sanitiser best for washing hands if I/my child has food allergies?

Firstly, while there is little risk of catching COVID-19 currently in New Zealand, it still pays to take precautions as you would to prevent catching colds or other flu.

  • Stay home if you are unwell and self-isolate if possible – this will not only reduce the chance of you spreading something, but will also reduce the chance of you catching something while your immune system is not at its best.
  • If you are concerned about your symptoms, phone your GP or Healthline (0800 358 5453) for advice.
  • Get the flu vaccine, if you haven’t already.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.*
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow, and regularly disinfect shared surfaces.
  • Those who are at higher risk of the effects of COVID-19 due to age (over 70), a serious health condition, ethnicity (particularly Māori and Pacific people), or smoking, should also continue to practice social distancing where possible.

* Regular and thorough hand washing with soap and water throughout the day, particularly after using the bathroom and before eating, is vital for preventing infections. Alcohol-based hand gel can be used to sanitise hands when soap and water aren’t available. However, if you have food allergies, this is the advice from FARE (https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/cleaning-methods

  • Use appropriate handwashing procedures that emphasise the use of soap and water. Plain water and hand sanitizers are not effective in removing food allergens.
  • One study found that liquid soap, bar soap and commercial wipes were very effective at removing peanut allergens from hands. Plain water and antibacterial hand sanitizer left detectable levels of peanut allergen on 3 out of 12, and 6 out of 12 hands, respectively.

For those with hand eczema, moisturisers will not kill viruses. Use soap and water to wash hands but apply plenty of moisturiser afterwards.

For more on protecting yourself and others, see: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-health-advice-general-public/protecting-yourself-and-others-covid-19

If you have allergies:

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) advises that most people with allergies are not immunocompromised and are therefore not considered to be at greater risk from COVID-19.  

https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/covid-19

Those who also have asthma, however, need to take some precautions to prevent getting an infection (in addition to the above advice). In particular, keep your asthma under good control, and use medications as directed by your doctor or asthma nurse.

https://www.asthma.org.nz/pages/patient-referrals

Some allergic rhinitis and asthma symptoms may be similar to those caused by COVID-19, such as sneezing and runny nose (allergic rhinitis) and wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath (asthma). If you are at all concerned, ring your GP or Healthline (0800 358 5453), and follow their advice.

It is important to treat allergic rhinitis and asthma to prevent symptoms that could be mistaken for infections from viruses, such as colds, influenza and COVID-19. If you don’t already have a plan (allergic rhinitis and/or asthma) and medications in place, see your GP.

Penny Jorgensen,

Allergy Advisor,

Allergy NZ.