For many, the return of warmer weather can be a little stressful on the sinuses – with 20% of UK residents suffering from hay fever, according to Chemist4U.
For sufferers of seasonal allergies, easing the symptoms of hay fever can feel like a never-ending battle. When you’re not locking yourself indoors on scorching summer days, you’re having to constantly carry a bevy of eye-drops, nasal sprays, and tablets on a daily basis.
However, after the reveal of new Covid-19 symptoms, many of which are similar to Covid – sufferers of hay fever can draw parallels between the virus and the common pollen allergy – with Chemist4U’s research showing that there has been a 331 per cent increase in people searching Google to find out whether they have “there is fever or Covid?”.
At least one in three (33%) Brits have been infected with Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic as well.
According to James O’Loan, CEO and pharmacist at Chemist4U, the rise in Covid infections and pollen count, as we settle into spring, can lead people to be confused as to whether they have hay fever or Covid.
He goes on to say that “allergic rhinitis or hay fever and Covid-19 both affect the respiratory system, with some similar symptoms, such as a loss of smell or a new cough.”
Hay fever typically starts around April, although it can be earlier – in February and March. It depends on what you react to as a sufferer of hay fever: tree pollen is from late March to mid-May, whereas grass pollen is mid-May to July. Weed pollen comes at the end of June, right through until September.
If you’re struggling to decide whether your symptoms are an allergy or Covid-19, here’s everything you need to know about the difference in signs of coronavirus and hay fever – as well as the treatment for the latter.
Covid vs hay fever symptoms
According to the NHS website, symptoms of coronavirus in adults can include:
- a high temperature or shivering (chills) – a high temperature means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
- a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
- shortness of breath
- feeling tired or exhausted
- an aching body
- a headache
- a sore throat
- a blocked or runny nose
- loss of appetite
- feeling sick or being sick
Previously, one of the main symptoms of the virus was a high temperature – of 37.8C or higher – but Allergy UK has never determined this as a sign of hay fever.
As of April 2022, O’Loan states that “there are ways to tell the difference if you’re suffering from symptoms associated with both conditions. For example, there are fever coughs are typically caused by postnasal drip, which occurs when allergens irritate the lining of your nose. Whereas, a cough caused by Covid-19 is more likely to be accompanied by a high temperature – a symptom that is not associated with hay fever.”
It is predominantly the cough and feeling of being tight-chested that causes one of the key crossover symptoms between Covid-19 and hay fever.
However, according to Amena Warner, Head of Clinical Services at Allergy UK, “pollen induced asthma”, which can occur in people with hay fever, can be confused with the symptoms of Covid-19, which can give people a feeling of breathlessness.
“Pollen induced asthma can feel like a tightness on the chest, difficulty breathing and a wheeze,” she said. “People can also feel fatigued and lethargic during the pollen season as their body tries to deal with the high pollen load on their system.”
If you do have any of the above symptoms, it is likely that there is a fever that will respond to antihistamines and nasal sprays. The Allergy UK website recommends that people treat “hay fever proactively” to minimize symptoms and reduce “the tendency for you to touch your face due to itch, and prevent unintentional spread of coronavirus by sneezing.”
How to relieve hay fever
Antihistamines are the most common form of hay fever treatment and as you might gather from the name, they simply block the release of a chemical called histamine. Ordinarily, histamine would be a very beneficial chemical. It’s a part of the immune system responsible for opening up blood vessels and increasing blood flow into infected or damaged areas of the body. This allows the rapid distribution of chemicals and white blood cells into the area to fight off illness.
In allergy sufferers, the immune system mistakes allergens like pollen, pet hair, or household dust for infections and starts to release histamine. This binds to receptors, causing swelling and the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Think of the receptor as a lock and histamine as the key which releases the immune response. Antihistamines get to the lock first and block histamine from unlocking the door, holding the immune reaction at bay.
The two brands you will find over the counter are Loratadine and Cetirizine Hydrochloride. Mr Pavol Surda, Consultant ENT Surgeon at London Bridge Hospital and there fever expert, says that “both are newer, non-drowsy antihistamines that have been designed to minimize the risk of making you feel sleepy and give good symptom control.”
However, there are differences which might impact which one you use. “Loratadine is a bit older and not as strong as Cetirizine but the action is quicker and it’s less likely to cause any sleepiness,” explains Surda, going on to say that about one in ten people who use Cetirizine experience drowsiness.
“In contrast, the older first-generation antihistamines (containing chlorphenamine) are also strong in symptom relief but cause strong sedation and have been associated with poor school performance, impaired driving and work injuries.”
Other cures for hay fever
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.