LONDON — People with allergic conditions such as hay fever, eczema, and rhinitis may be at a lower risk of catching COVID-19, according to a new study. A team of 34 British scientists found allergy sufferers who also have asthma were less likely to contract the potentially deadly virus.
In a surprising twist, the researchers found being older, male, or having underlying conditions did not raise the risk of infection — a contrary finding to other studies. Allergy-related conditions such as hay fever and eczema, which are triggered by allergens, were associated with a 23-percent lower risk of coronavirus infection.
People with both an atopic condition and asthma were 38 percent less likely to get sick during the pandemic. The findings held up even after scientists factored in the use of steroid inhalers.
Those taking immunosuppressants to dampen down overactive immune system reactions (a cause of allergies) were 53 percent less likely to contract COVID. However, researchers say this could be because many immunocompromised people have been sheltering at home for much of the pandemic.
Age, sex, other medical conditions, diet and supplement use did not affect the risks either way. Researchers also found Asians were more than twice as likely to test positive for COVID as white people.
The risks for COVID exposure remain the same
The study finds obesity, household overcrowding, socializing indoors with other households, and working in a people-facing job other than health care or social services increased a person’s risk of coronavirus infection.
The higher the number of people living under one roof and the more visits people made to busy and crowded indoor locations, the more likely they were to suffer a COVID-19 infection.
The researchers add that the factors that put people at risk of catching the virus are not always the same as those that could put someone in intensive care or cause a fatal infection.
For the large study of British adults, carried out between May 2020 and February 2021, study authors asked people to give them information about their age, job, lifestyle, household circumstances, weight, height, pre-existing medical conditions, usage of medications, vaccination history, diet, and supplement intake.
‘Limited overlap’ between mild and severe COVID cases
Of the 16,081 people who took part, 15,227 filled out at least one follow-up questionnaire at least 30 days after joining the study, while 14,348 people completed the final questionnaire on or before Feb. 5, 2021. The average age of participants was 59, with 70 percent being female and 95 percent being white.
Results show almost three percent of these individuals tested positive for the virus during that period. The researchers cautioned that their study was observational and could not establish cause and effect. People tested themselves for the virus and those without symptoms may not have thought there was any reason for them to take a test.
“This large, population-based prospective study shows that there is limited overlap between risk factors for developing COVID-19 versus those for intensive care unit admission and death, as reported in hospitalized cohorts,” says study author Professor Adrian Martineau of Queen Mary University in a media release.
The findings appear in the journal Thorax.
South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.