Coronavirus or hay fever? How to tell if your symptoms really are Covid-19 during pollen season

THE first sign of even so much as a sniffle may have you questioning whether you’ve caught the dreaded coronavirus.

But it’s important to note that your symptoms might not be the deadly bug Covid-19 – which has already infected more than 1.5 million people worldwide.

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The hayfever season kicked off in the UK in mid-March – so the 13 million Brits who suffer with pollen allergies may have noticed they’ve started to get a runny nose, itchy throat and perhaps even a cough.

Experts warn that, amidst the current pandemic, some people may mistake these symptoms for those of coronavirus.

But in order to keep yourself safe and rule out any unnecessary concerns, they say you should be able to identify the differences.

Marc Donovan, chief pharmacist at Boots UK said: “We know this can be a worrying time for everyone and with tree pollen beginning to affect hay fever sufferers, there’s no better time to get clued up on recognising the different symptoms you might have.

“Some people may mistake hay fever symptoms for a cold or flu and during the current pandemic, may also mistake them for coronavirus.”

As Covid-19 is a new illness, scientists are still working to understand it, but they say they have now nailed down the first key symptoms.

Health officials say the most common symptoms of coronavirus infection usually include:

  • A dry cough
  • A high temperature
  • Shortness of breath

Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea – but these are usually mild or rare and begin gradually.

Others will develop no symptoms as at all and may not even know they’ve had coronavirus, also known as being asymptomatic.

It’s something experts are desperately working to come up with a test for as it will help rule out parts of the population that may have already built up immunity.

Hay fever symptoms

In contrast, the most common hay fever symptoms are much clearer. They usually include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Itchy, watery or red eyes
  • Cough

Hayfever sufferers may also experience itching around the face and mouth or an itchy feeling inside the roof of the mouth and a burning sensation in the throat.

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It may also cause headaches and wheezing, but these are less common symptoms, along with a sore throat.

How to tell the difference?

Some of the symptoms of coronavirus may cross over with hay fever in a few cases, so it’s worth understanding how to tell the difference.

We asked allergy expert Max Wiseberg, of Haymax, to explain…

He said: “If your mucus is clear, thin and watery it is more likely to be hay fever.”

“And although it is called hay fever, a fever is unusual, whereas it is possible with coronavirus.”

Max added: “Despite its name, hay fever is not contagious, whereas the coronavirus is – another reason for determining which one you are suffering from.”

“To help prevent the spread of coronavirus, it’s important to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and wash hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.”

“Awareness of the coronavirus is key, so it’s crucial to avoid people who are sick and be aware of symptoms.”

Asthma problems

Almost half of all those with hay fever also suffer with asthma – and pollen can irritate the airways and worsen symptoms.

Coronavirus is also a respiratory illness and is also understood to cause symptoms which can exacerbate asthma and increase the risk of potentially life-threatening attacks.

Emma Rubach, head of health advice at Asthma UK, told The Sun Online: “Coronavirus can cause respiratory problems for anyone.

“But for the 5.4million people in the UK with asthma, respiratory viruses bring an increased risk of asthma symptoms and potentially life threatening asthma attacks.”


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Emma said that this could leave people with asthma particularly concerned, however there are practical steps to staying well.

She added: “It’s vital that you take your preventer inhaler (usually brown) daily as prescribed to build up protection in your airways over time and reduce your risk of an asthma attack if you do catch a virus.

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“Keep your reliever inhaler (usually blue) nearby, so you can use it if your symptoms get worse.

“Wash your hands frequently to reduce the risk of catching a virus and avoid sharing towels, cups or other household items with someone who might be affected.”

Pollen season

 This chart shows the different types of pollen and when they peak throughout the year


This chart shows the different types of pollen and when they peak throughout the year

The pollen season across the UK is separated into three main sections.

From late March to mid-May is tree pollen season, while mid-May to July is grass pollen season and weed pollen season runs from the end of June until September.

Grass pollen is the most common allergy and affects 90 per cent of people with hay fever, according to Allergy UK.

Pollen counts tend to be higher in early morning and late evening, although they can sometimes be high all day long.

If the grass is damp, the pollen peak will be later in the morning because the water evaporates before the pollen is released.

Pollen rises in the air during the day and then descends at night, as the air cools.

In rural areas, the evening peak tends to occur between 6pm and 9pm but in the city, where the air stays warmer for longer, the pollen descends later and levels tend to peak between 9pm and midnight or even later, which is why you may wake up sneezing in the night.

How to deal with hay fever

Experts say that one of the best ways to combat hay fever is to stay indoors.

And with the government urging people to socially distance themselves by staying home as much as possible, that should make this year’s hay fever season a little easier to cope with.

But if you do go outside there are some measures you can take to ease those symptoms.

Max Wiseberg added: “Tie your hair up and wear a hat when outside to prevent pollen particles being caught in your hair and wear wraparound sunglasses to prevent pollen particles coming in contact with your eyes.

“Keep well hydrated and eat lots of fruit and vegetables to stay healthy and support your immune system.

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“Shower at night before sleeping to remove pollen particles from your hair and body.”

He continued: “Close windows and doors to prevent pollen blowing into your home and vacuum the house regularly  – especially beds and fabrics – to remove pollen particles.

“Dry your clothes indoors rather than outdoors to prevent pollen particles being blown onto the clothes by the outside wind.”

You should also make sure any pets are well groomed and shampooed, as they can carry pollen particles in their fur, and keep them out of the room where you sleep.

There are also conventional over-the-counter medicines which can combat hay fever symptoms.

“Antihistamine tablets and capsules can relieve most hay fever symptoms – sneezing, itchy, runny eyes, skin irritation, itchy nose and throat – but are less effective for nasal congestion,” according to Max.

“Antihistamine nasal sprays can quickly ease itching, sneezing and watering but generally only proof against mild symptoms.

“Steroid nasal sprays and drops help reduce inflammation in the nose.

“They work best for clearing nasal symptoms – itching, sneezing, watering & congestion – and sprays sometimes clear eye symptoms too.

“Eye drops may reduce itchy, watering, swollen eyes.”


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