COVID-19 has been in the UK for well over a year now – but as the new Delta variant sweeps the country, it’s important you know how to distinguish the virus from hay fever.
Brits are currently basking in high temperatures, which means an uptick in pollen and hay fever symptoms – some of which are similar to Covid-19.
The hay fever 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 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.”
While little was known about Covid at the start of the pollen season last year, experts have come to understand more about the symptoms since.
Health officials say there are three key symptoms to look out for when it comes to coronavirus – and if you have any of these you must get a test:
- A fever
- New, continuous cough
- Loss of smell or taste
While these are the main symptoms for Covid and hay fever, some people who suffer from both conditions can suffer from skin rashes, headaches and muscle aches.
A third of people who catch coronavirus will have no symptoms at all – but the roll out of rapid tests can help you quickly determine whether or not you have the viral infection.
While a rash is not common with hay fever, it can sometimes cause irritation when the allergen comes into direct contact with the skin.
For example, if you’re allergic to plants or flowers, touching them could cause an outbreak of hives.
Having this knowledge may help to work out whether the rash is a result of pollen-related allergies or Covid, experts say.
Hay fever symptoms
In contrast, the most common hay fever symptoms are much clearer. They usually include:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy, watery or red eyes
Hay fever 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.
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.”
The pollen season across the UK is separated into three main sections.
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.
“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.”