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Hay fever or COVID-19? How to tell the difference

21 April 2020 in Health

Spring is officially here in some parts of the world - and so is hay fever season.

If you’re allergic to pollen and get hay fever, having a blocked or runny nose and sneezing may feel completely normal at this time of year.

But as these symptoms are similar to those of coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s important to make sure that you don’t mistake hay fever for coronavirus or coronavirus for hay fever.

Here’s how to tell the difference.

What’s the difference between hay fever and coronavirus?

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen that affects between 10 to 30% of people worldwide. Its symptoms include:

  • sneezing and coughing
  • a runny or blocked nose
  • itchy, red or watery eyes
  • itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
  • loss of smell
  • pain at the side of your head and forehead
  • headache
  • earache
  • feeling tired

But the top 2 on the list - sneezing and coughing, and a runny or blocked nose - are also signs of a mild coronavirus infection. Losing your sense of smell has also been linked to COVID-19, but it’s not an official symptom.

If you have these symptoms and aren’t sure if that means you have the virus, the Royal College of General Practitioners in the UK (RCGP) says you should pay attention to certain features that are unique to hay fever.

For example, allergy symptoms tend to be milder and vary throughout the day as pollen levels are often higher in the afternoon and evening, says Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the RCGP.

Wet weather can also make symptoms of hay fever milder.

This means that if your symptoms are present all day long and/or during wet weather, you may have COVID-19 or another infection.

The RCGP also points out that most people with hay fever usually recognise the symptoms they get and know how bad these symptoms can become.

So if you usually have hay fever but your symptoms feel very different this year, or if you have a persistent cough or fever, follow the advice of your government and self-isolate.

If your symptoms get worse, seek help from a healthcare professional.


If you think you may have coronavirus, you can use our COVID-19 Symptom Mapper to check your symptoms and compare them with others around the world.

This should give you a better understanding of how the illness is affecting you and will help us to map the spread of the outbreak.


References:

Allergy Statistics | AAAAI [Internet]. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 2020 [cited 22 April 2020]. Available here.

Hay fever [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 22 April 2020]. Available here.

Hay fever rates smash five-year average across England, latest RGCP data shows [Internet]. Rcgp.org.uk. 2020 [cited 22 April 2020]. Available here.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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