Can Masks Help with Allergies?

One silver lining of wearing masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 has been the prevention of other viruses, such as the flu. In fact, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms a significantly lower rate of the flu during the pandemic.

So can masks help alleviate allergies this spring, too? The answer is maybe, says UNC Health family medicine physician Sarah Ruff, MD.

“It could help if you’re wearing the mask outside when you’re usually bothered by the pollen, or if you wear it while mowing the grass because you are allergic to grass,” Dr. Ruff says. “But most people aren’t wearing a mask when they’re outside, especially when they are by themselves. They’re wearing masks mostly inside, and (seasonal) allergies aren’t inside as much.”

Minimize Seasonal Allergies

If you wear a mask outside, it’s important to wash it after each use to eliminate any allergens on the mask that you may have brought in from outdoors.

Dr. Ruff also recommends the following tips for finding allergy relief:

  • Take over-the-counter allergy medications, such as Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra or their generic equivalents.
  • If you feel drainage from a stuffy nose down the back of your throat, use Flonase, an over-the-counter nasal spray.
  • Limit exposure to allergens. For example, don’t open your windows during peak pollen season, and shower, if possible, after spending a lot of time outside.
  • If you’re not sure what is causing your allergies, ask your doctor or see an allergist.

Allergies, a Cold or COVID-19?

Allergy symptoms are similar to the symptoms of the common cold and some of the symptoms of COVID-19, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Symptoms of allergies include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose (usually clear mucus) or nasal congestion
  • Itchy, watery eyes

You won’t have aches or a fever with allergies.

“Allergy symptoms include itchy eyes, itchy nose, itchy throat,” Dr. Ruff says. “If it’s a sore throat because you just woke up in the morning and there’s drainage, that could be allergies, but if you have a sore throat all day, probably not allergies. If you’re not sure, ask your doctor or get tested for COVID-19.”

Keep in mind that most schools require students to report any symptoms they may be experiencing, including a runny or stuffy nose and sore throat. While these could be from allergies, your child may need to stay home and do remote learning until he or she starts to feel better.

“If you can’t get your child’s allergy symptoms under control, the safest thing for them is to actually stay home, because it’s really hard to tell the difference between allergies and COVID,” Dr. Ruff says. “And it could still be both. The school is not going to know, and they will ask you to stay home.”

Dealing with allergies? Talk to your doctor or find one near you.