Do I have hay fever or a cold?

Woman blowing her nose

How to tell the difference between hay fever and a cold


It’s the middle of summer and you’re sniffing and sneezing and, frankly, feeling a bit gross. But what’s going on? Have you picked up an uncomfortable summer cold, or are you suffering from hay fever?

There are a couple of ways to figure out what’s giving you the sneezes and the coughs, so let’s take a look at each condition and how you can tell them apart.


What is hay fever?


Hay fever is an allergy to pollen. Hay fever season usually lasts from March to September every year, although you may not experience hay fever for the entire time.

This is because there are different types of pollen, including: tree pollen, grass pollen, and weed pollen, and they all peak at different times during the year.

Hay fever can get worse in warm, humid, or windy weather, or when pollen counts are higher. You’re more likely to come into contact with pollen at these times.


What is a cold?


Colds are common viral infections that everyone’s experienced at least once in their lifetime (let’s be honest, if it’s only been once, you’re a very lucky person!)

Most people associate colds with winter time and cold weather, but you can get a cold at any time of year. That's why they can be mistaken for hay fever. Colds normally clear up by themselves within a couple of weeks, but cold and flu remedies can help you to crawl out of your sick bed until you’re feeling better.


Can hay fever feel like a cold?


Hay fever and colds can feel very similar, and they share many symptoms. That's why some people don’t know whether they’re suffering with hay fever or a cold when hay fever season rolls around.

However, there are a few differences between the two, so let’s take a look at the symptoms of each and see where those differences lie.


Hay fever symptoms


Hay fever symptoms -  let’s take a look at what they are:

  • Sneezing
  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Coughs
  • Headaches
  • Loss of smell
  • Itchy, red, or watery eyes
  • Itchy nose, throat, mouth, or ears
  • Earache
  • Feeling tired


Cold symptoms


If you’ve read our list of hay fever symptoms, you’re probably scratching your head, because a lot of them sound just like cold symptoms. Let’s look at our list of cold symptoms and see if you can spot the difference!

  • Sneezing
  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Coughs
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Raised temperature
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Feeling of pressure in your ears and face

What is the difference between hay fever and a cold?


If you’ve been paying attention to our lists of symptoms, you’ll notice that there are a couple of points where these two conditions don’t overlap.

For example, when you have hay fever, you’re likely to experience itching in your eyes, nose, throat, mouth, or ears, which is something that doesn’t happen when you have a cold.

On the other hand, if you have a cold you might feel achy or have a raised temperature, which isn’t likely if you’ve got hay fever. If you can’t tell the difference between your symptoms, then another sure-fire way to tell the two conditions apart is to look at how long you’ve been suffering.

If your symptoms clear up within a couple of weeks, you’ve probably had a cold. Conversely, hay fever will last for much longer and may be more severe on days with a high pollen count.

Keep an eye on your symptoms and how long they last and you’ll probably get to the bottom of it. Remember, always speak to your doctor or Chemist4U pharmacist if you’re ever unsure.


Can hay fever cause a sore throat?


Another difference between hay fever and a cold is that hay fever won’t usually cause a sore throat. However, you may sometimes experience a sore throat because of other hay fever symptoms, for example, your cough or the itching caused by hay fever may irritate your throat and make it feel sore.

The key difference to remember is that hay fever won’t give you a sore throat by itself, whereas a cold can. So, if you pick up a sore throat out of nowhere you’ve probably got a cold.


How to get rid of hay fever


Hay fever symptoms can be easily treated with over-the-counter medicines, such as hay fever tablets, nasal sprays, and eye drops. You can pick these up from pharmacies, online pharmacies, and lots of regular shops and supermarkets, so you won’t need to worry about finding a way to keep your hay fever under control.

If you’re looking for the best hay fever remedy for you, you should speak to your doctor or Chemist4U pharmacist for advice.


Can hay fever tablets help a cold?


If you’ve got a cold, then hay fever tablets probably aren’t going to be the best remedy. Most hay fever tablets are antihistamines, which block symptoms caused by a hormone called histamine, which is created when you have an allergic reaction.

Some cold remedies may include antihistamines, but they don’t necessarily treat the cause of cold symptoms, even if they make your runny nose feel a bit better. That's why cold medicines that include antihistamines also include other active ingredients which treat the cold virus, and could be a better remedy for you.

Woman holding two blister packs
So, do you think you could tell the difference between a cold and hay fever now? We’d like to think we’ve shed some light on the situation, but don’t forget that if you need advice, your Chemist4U pharmacist is here to help! Pick up the phone, send us an email, or even jump on our Ask a Pharmacist feature and ask us a question. We’re always happy to help!

Shop Hay Fever Remedies

Laura Henderson - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 17 June 2024
© 2024 Chemist4U. Innox Trading Ltd, 35-37 Greenhey Place, Skelmersdale, Lancashire, WN8 9SA, GB. All rights reserved. Registered and regulated UK pharmacy with the GPhC (registered premises 9011784). Registered in England No. 07262043 | VAT Registration No. GB140138454