COVID-19 or hay fever: how to tell the difference

With pollen count on the rise, some of us may have started to experience hay fever symptoms. The Royal College of GPs has offered advice on how to distinguish between hay fever and coronavirus symptoms and avoid confusions.

COVID-19 or hay fever: how to tell the difference

The transition into spring might bring warmer weather, but it also comes with higher pollen levels. We all know what this means: it's time for the dreaded hay fever symptoms. With anxieties running high on the health front at the moment, some of us might find it hard to tell whether their symptoms come from hay fever, or are linked to the coronavirus. The Royal College of GPs confirms there might be an overlap in symptoms, so they've offered advice on how to distinguish between the two and avoid any confusions.

Overlapping symptoms

Hay fever symptoms typically include sneezing, blocked/runny nose, itchy/watery eyes and throat and discomfort around the sinuses. On the other hand, as COVID-19 is a coronavirus strain, its main warning signs are a high temperature, headache, a new, persistent cough and loss of taste/smell. The two do share some common symptoms, such as fatigue, headache or cough, though they are experienced at varying degrees. For example, cough caused by hay fever comes as a result of tickling in the throat rather than respiratory problems, so it's a lot milder and less persistent. But some symptoms could cause confusion too: hay fever sufferers might lose their sense of smell due to a blocked nose, or they might feel a strong headache come on as a result of blocked sinuses.

COVID-19 and hay fever: key differences

The very predictability of hay fever that would make us roll our eyes about each year gives us the main tool for telling the two apart. Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs points out that "patients who regularly suffer from hay fever will be familiar with the symptoms they usually get and the severity of them". He continues: "allergy symptoms tend to be milder and fluctuate depending on the time of day, as pollen levels are often higher in the afternoon and evening".

Another key difference between the two kinds of characteristics is fever. Despite what the name suggests, people suffering from hay fever don't actually experience a high temperature or muscle aches - a typical symptom of the coronavirus. Instead, they experience a lot of itchiness in their eyes, ears, throat and nose - a symptom at odds with what we know of COVID-19.

Hay fever tips during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

  • Be proactive: start using your antihistamine tablets, eye drops or nose spray at least 2 weeks before hay fever season starts, as their effects are accumulative.
  • Switch to dailies: daily contact lenses make it a lot easier to stay hygienic. Their easy wearing pattern means you throw them away at the end of the day, and start the next one with fresh, crisp vision.
  • Be prepared: keep a close eye on the pollen count in your area - you could use an app like Klara that sends out daily notifications and updates on pollen levels.
  • Minimise your exposure: on days with a particularly high pollen count, try to stay indoors and don't open your windows all the way, as the wind could bring pollen particles inside.
  • Protect others: like always, use a tissue to cover up when sneezing or coughing, and throw it away into a closed container.
  • Stay on the safe side: if you're not sure about your symptoms, staying at home is the safest choice in the long term, both for you and others. Remember that you can always reach out for medical help by phoning NHS 111 or your GP if you do think you might be experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
  • Follow the facts: as coronavirus still unfolds, stay informed and get your facts from trusted medical sources.
  • Try not to stress: while it's important to keep an eye on your symptoms, you're not doing yourself much good by letting worry overwhelm you. It's more important than ever to look after yourself at the moment, so try to do that as much as you can, despite it all.

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