Allergies can make breathing difficult, so it’s safe to assume they might make upper respiratory infections even more severe. But if that's the case then why is it that allergy sufferers appear even less likely to experience extreme COVID-19 symptoms? The answer could be as simple as it is surprising.
Allergies are the result of mistakes the immune system makes, flagging pollen or other particles as invaders and sending histamines to hold and attack them. According to Mayo Clinic, we can have these responses for several reasons, but the results all lead to increased risks for asthma, sinusitis, ear infections and, in some extreme cases, anaphylaxis.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America adds that people in this risk group are more likely to suffer serious complications with the flu. People who have both allergies and asthma may be at the highest risk. But, and this is the important thing to note: COVID-19 is nothing like the flu.
It would be reasonable to assume allergies make people more prone to all respiratory infections, but this may not always be the case. Studies have found that allergies can, for some people, lead to less severe symptoms when exposed to common-cold rhinoviruses. Though experts had struggled to pinpoint the reason. It turns out that rhinoviruses and coronaviruses have something in common: They use the same entry points into the body, and allergies can affect how those work.
A new article published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, which used the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in its study, may have finally nailed the specifics. According to the findings, one of the effects of allergies is having reduced numbers of a type of cell receptor called ACE2. This lowered cell count makes the respiratory tract less vulnerable to this viral infection because the viral invaders in COVID-19 use ACE2 like a doorway into cells, so the fewer of these receptors an organ is expressing, the fewer places the virus has to get in.
Having allergies may offer some protection against COVID-19 and a few other infections, but it can’t prevent any of them. Having fewer ACE2 receptors isn’t the same as having zero. The doorways are still available, even if there aren’t as many of them—and it really only takes one. No one should assume immunity against this virus. Even those who have already had it.
Allergy sufferers might have some good news, but it’s not time to celebrate quite yet. Until COVID-19 retires to a horse ranch somewhere, none of us can breathe easy. It’s up to each of us to do our part to reduce the spread and save lives. By which we mean, please wear a mask and maintain social distance—let's all take care of each other.
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