Covid or hay fever?
Woman sneezing wearing face mask  

With a respiratory virus spreading across the globe, many of us may be prone to panic when we feel under the weather. Even the slightest sniffle could have us on edge, wondering if we’ve caught a dreaded new variant of the disease. 

With Covid infections and the pollen count both on the rise, you might be asking yourself: Have I got hay fever or Covid? It certainly isn’t a silly question. Allergic rhinitis and Covid-19 both affect the respiratory system and both can have us feeling really out of sorts. 

So, can Covid feel like hay fever? We’ll explore the differences between the two so you can find the right treatment for your symptoms. 


How to tell the difference between Covid and hay fever


Covid-19 and hay fever are making the rounds this summer and it’s important we know what the signs are. Whether you’re a long-time hay fever sufferer or you’ve never experienced summer allergies before, it’s crucial to be aware of your symptoms and know what they might mean.

Take a look at the symptoms of hay fever and Covid-19 below to familiarise yourself with the two conditions.


Symptoms of hay fever


Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen, a fine powder that’s released by plants during the spring and summer months. The following symptoms may indicate that you’re suffering from hay fever: 

  • Sneezing and coughing
  • A runny or blocked nose
  • Itchy, red or watery eyes
  • Itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
  • Loss of smell
  • Pain around your temples and forehead
  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Feeling tired

If you have asthma as well as hay fever, you might experience a tight feeling in your chest, shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing. Unlike Covid, hay fever isn’t contagious and it lasts for several weeks or months over spring and summer specifically. 


What to do if you think you have hay fever


Hay fever doesn’t have a cure and it can’t be prevented, either. But there are several treatment options available to help ease your symptoms. 

Antihistamine tablets are one of the most common treatments - these work by preventing a chemical called histamine from being released during an allergic reaction. There are also nasal sprays available that will help to ease the sneezing and runny nose. 

If your symptoms don’t improve after trying a hay fever medicine, speak to your GP for further advice. 


Symptoms of Covid-19


Covid-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the highly contagious coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Covid-19 can affect people in different ways. In fact, 1 in 3 people who are infected with the virus might not show any symptoms at all. 

The three main symptoms you can look out for are: 

  • A high temperature (feeling hot to touch on your chest or back)
  • A new, continuous cough (coughing a lot for more than an hour, or more than 3 coughing episodes in 24 hours)
  • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste 

Most people who show symptoms of Covid-19 tend to display at least one of these three symptoms. 


What to do if you think you have Covid-19 


If you think you might have Covid-19, the current guidance states that you should get a PCR test as soon as possible. 

A PCR test is a type of test that is sent to a lab, not to be confused with a lateral flow test which you can carry out yourself at home. 

You and the other members of your household must isolate at home until you get the result of your test. If you’re concerned about your symptoms, you should avoid visiting a GP surgery, hospital or pharmacy and contact NHS 111 first online or over the phone. 


Can hay fever make you cough?


Whilst a cough isn’t necessarily the main symptom of hay fever, it is certainly possible that you could find yourself coughing when the pollen count is high. 

Hay fever coughs are typically caused by postnasal drip, which occurs when allergens irritate the lining of your nose. When you’ve got a runny nose, the mucus can run down the back of your nose into your throat. This can lead to a tickly feeling that causes a cough. 

You might also be more likely to have a cough with hay fever if you suffer from asthma, as allergens can cause your airways to tighten. 

Your cough is likely to be mild with hay fever and your symptoms should change depending on the pollen count. If you usually have a cough caused by hay fever, Covid-19 will probably make your cough feel more severe. 

A cough caused by Covid-19 is more likely to be accompanied by a high temperature. This is a symptom that is not associated with hay fever. 


Can hay fever make Covid worse? 


It's known that pre-existing conditions, particularly those that affect your immune system, can make people more vulnerable to Covid-19. 

Allergy is not an autoimmune disease - it is the body’s exaggerated immune response to a particular allergen like pollen. An allergy like hay fever doesn’t mean your body will have a weaker immune response to viruses or bacteria. 

Do be aware that some medical treatments are known to have an effect on your immune system. Typical hay fever treatments such as antihistamines and nasal steroids are generally considered safe and shouldn’t lower your immune response. 

If, however, you take oral steroids or other immunosuppressive tablets, these could have an effect on your immune system’s response to a virus like Covid-19. In this case, your GP or specialist will need to carry out a risk-benefit evaluation. 


Should I get the Covid vaccine if I have allergies?


It is highly recommended that most people should get the Covid-19 vaccine, but you may have heard that some people with allergies are advised against the jab. 

In this scenario, the allergies we’re talking about are extremely severe and shouldn’t be confused with hay fever. Severe allergy sufferers typically have to take extra caution than most of us by carrying an EpiPen or avoiding certain foods, medicines or cosmetics, for instance. 

People with a severe allergy to any of the specific ingredients in the Covid-19 vaccine could suffer anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction), but this is extremely rare. Suffering from hay fever won't put you at a higher risk of experiencing a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine. In fact, you will most likely be recommended to take up the offer of having the jab. 

If you suffer from other allergies or have ever had an unexplained anaphylactic reaction, speak to a healthcare professional for expert advice. 

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Do face masks help with hay fever?


Wearing a face mask protects the people around us and helps to prevent the spread of Covid-19. There may, however, be some added benefits for those of us who suffer from hay fever. 

It has been reported in a 2020 study that nurses who wore face masks suffered fewer allergy symptoms. Pollen is typically between 10 and 100 micrometres in size - a standard surgical mask should be able to filter out these allergens.

It is, of course, incredibly important that your mask is clean and worn correctly. If you're using a reusable mask, make sure you’re washing it in between each use. 

If you don’t maintain proper mask hygiene, pollen could build up on the mask and cause more harm than good. 


We hope this guide has eased your mind and helped you to determine the difference between hay fever and Covid. 

Hay fever is extremely common at this time of year, so try not to worry too much when you’re feeling a little sneezy. 

That said, don’t ignore the signs of Covid-19 and make sure to get a test if you need to - it’s incredibly important that we all do our bit to stop the spread of the virus. 

If you’re concerned about any of your symptoms, be sure to seek advice from the NHS 111 service. 

Alexandra Moses - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 28 March 2023
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