Do I have hay fever or a cold?

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 here?
Have you picked up an uncomfortable Summer cold, or are you suffering with 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 which means that you’ll experience an allergic reaction when you come into contact with certain types of 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, tree pollen, grass pollen, and weed pollen, and they all have peaks at different times of the year.
Hay fever can get worse in warm, humid, or windy weather, or when pollen counts are higher, as you’re more likely to come into contact with pollen at these times.
This is when you start sneezing, sniffling, and crying as your body reacts to that irritating pollen and tries to get it out of your system as quickly as possible.

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, which is 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 lots of symptoms. This is 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 condition and see where those differences lie.

Hay fever symptoms

Hay fever has a lot of characteristic symptoms that any hay fever sufferer will tell you can get super irritating when Spring and Summer roll around.
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 right now, because a lot of that sounds just like a cold, right?
Well, 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 just 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, whereas 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 this, but remember that you should speak to your doctor or Chemist 4 U pharmacist if you’re ever unsure and need help.
They’ve got the knowledge to help you to set things straight.

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, where 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 really easily treated with over the counter medicines, such as hay fever tablets, nasal sprays, and eye drops.
You can pick these remedies 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 Chemist 4 U pharmacist for advice, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction, no problem!

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 for you.
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.
This is why cold medicines that include antihistamines also include other active ingredients which treat the cold virus, and could be a better remedy for you.
If you’re not sure about your medicine, just speak to your doctor or Chemist 4 U pharmacist for advice, they’ll make sure you’re taking the right thing to send that cold packing.

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 some advice, your Chemist 4 U 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!

Laura Henderson - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Prescribing Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Prescribing Pharmacist on 17 September 2021
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