If You Have Seasonal Allergies, You Are Less Likely to Get COVID, Study Says

|Updated Dec 8, 2021
Getty Images

This may be the first time in your entire life that you are grateful for your allergies. It turns out that people who have seasonal allergies like hay fever and asthma are up to 38 percent less likely to fall ill with COVID-19, a new study has discovered.

"People with allergic conditions such as hay fever, rhinitis, and atopic eczema, may have a lower risk of COVID-19 infection, especially if they also have asthma," according to a large, population-based study of UK adults, published online in the respiratory journal Thorax.

Contrary to the findings of other studies, older age, male gender, and other underlying conditions aren’t linked to a heightened risk of infection, the research indicates, although underlying conditions are linked to the severity of symptoms for those who do get COVID.

Reducing your risk of getting COVID

Still, whether you are allergic or not, there are other ways to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19. Even if you are an allergy sufferer and are less likely to get the virus, you should still practice caution and reduce your risk as much as you can.

The measures that have been scientifically proven to help include masking up in tight places or in crowds, such as on public transportation, washing your hands frequently, and getting fully vaccinated. Even though the new Omicron variant is making its way across the US, those new variant cases are a small speck on the larger map of well over 100,000 new cases a day being diagnosed, most of which are the Delta variant.

The other way to be healthier is to boost your immune system by eating a plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables that deliver antioxidants and vitamins, phytochemicals, and fiber, all of which strengthen your immune system and fortify your body against invaders. The 7 Best Foods to Eat to Fight Off Colds and Flu are the same ones that will help you not suffer from COVID-19.

Allergy sufferers and those with asthma are more protected against COVID-19

People who have hay fever, rhinitis, atopic eczema, and other seasonal allergies had a significantly lower risk for developing COVID-19, particularly if they also had asthma, according to this study published in Thorax, as cited in the journal Healio.

“There have been numerous studies investigating risk factors for severe COVID-19, such as risk factors for hospitalization, but there is a relative lack of population-based studies investigating risks for developing COVID-19 irrespective of severity,” explained Adrian R. Martineau, BMedSci, Ph.D., clinical professor of respiratory infection and immunity at Blizard Institute at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London.

The researchers surveyed over 14,000 adults (mean age of 59 years; 70 percent were women, and 95 percent were white) in the United Kingdom, getting details about their age, weight, height, households, jobs, lifestyle habits, longstanding medical conditions, whether they took medications, their vaccination status, their diet, and supplement intake. As expected, elevated BMI also was associated with higher odds of infection. But what was a surprise was that atopic diseases such as eczema or dermatitis and hay fever and allergic rhinitis were also associated with 23 percent lower odds of developing COVID-19.

Participants with "atopic disease" – clinical syndromes such as allergies, that are defined by a group of symptoms – and also suffer from asthma had a 38 percent lower risk of infection, even after the use of steroid inhalers was factored in, according to the researchers. “People who have allergic conditions such as hay fever, rhinitis, and atopic eczema appear to have a lower risk for COVID-19, especially if they also have asthma,” Martineau told Healio. “This may be due to their having a lower expression of ACE-2, the receptor via which SARS-CoV-2 enters human cells.”

"Among those who had atopic disease and asthma, the risk was even lower: 38 percent. This association held true even after factoring in the use of steroid inhalers," according to the study. Taking drugs to dampen down the immune system response (immunosuppressants) was also associated with 53 percent lower odds of COVID-19 infection, though this may reflect greater shielding from infection by these patients, according to the researchers.

How else can you lower your risk of infection?

So while this new study is potentially good news for allergy sufferers – as long as you can control your allergies and live with the occasional itchy eyes, runny nose, and wheezing from allergens in your environment – it does not mean throw caution to the wind. You should still do everything you can to reduce your risk of infection and also the severity of the disease if you get it.

The other thing that has been found to lower your risk of severe infection if you do get COVID-19 is to maintain a healthy weight and lower your inflammation in the body by eating a diet rich in plant-based foods. Inflammation is the enemy when it comes to fighting off any disease, whether it's a common cold or flu or it's COVID-19 or its allergies.

Inflammation hampers the body's natural immune system and does not allow it to do its job of fighting off invaders in the form of viruses and bacterial infections. Instead, it's too busy trying to tamp down the inflammation that makes you more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. 

These things make you less like to get COVID-19

1 Having seasonal allergies, like hay fever, rhinitis, eczema, and asthma
2. Being healthy overall. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating plant-based
3. Mask-wearing in crowds, social distancing whenever possible; hand washing
4. Getting fully vaccinated since it works against the most severe cases, as well as getting a booster

Who was more likely to be infected

Other findings of the study included: Those study subjects who are of Asian or Asian British ethnicity were more than twice as likely to become infected as their white counterparts.  Households with overcrowding and also those that allowed socializing with other households within the previous two weeks ended up with more infections. The number of visits to indoor public places increased the likelihood of infection, as did having a people-facing job, other than in health and social care (where precautions are taken to protect workers). Being overweight or obese was also associated with a heightened risk of infection from COVID-19.

Bottom Line: Having Allergies May Lower Your Risk of COVID-19

But even if you are an allergy sufferer and have asthma, to lower your risk of infection, stay out of crowds, wear masks, get vaccinated, maintain a healthy weight, and eat a mostly plant-based diet to boost your immune system.