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Pollen levels have been rising across the UK – particularly England – much to the dismay of anyone who suffers from hay fever. And the Met Office’s pollen map shows increasing levels across England during this week’s mini heatwave.
Max Wiseberg, airborne allergens expert and creator of HayMax allergen barrier balm, says there’s set to be a “huge onslaught of grass pollen this week” – with pollen counts predicted to go sky high. Other allergens that are airborne include: nettle, dock and plantain, says the Met Office.
Those with hay fever will likely be feeling the effects already: the itchy, watery eyes; the runny nose; possibly even a cough. But aren’t some of these also signs of coronavirus?
Dr Diana Gall, a GP working with online service Doctor 4 U, says that because some of the symptoms can overlap it’s “imperative” that people do stay vigilant of how they’re feeling. Here’s what you need to know.
The key differences
The main symptoms of Covid-19 are a high temperature and/or a new, continuous cough – and while hay fever may leave some people with a cough, its main symptoms revolve around general itchiness – so itchy eyes, an itchy nose, itchy throat and in some cases itchy ears – and a runny nose.
Conversely, sneezing and a stuffy nose are common with hay fever but these symptoms are rare in Covid-19 cases, says Marc Donovan, chief pharmacist at Boots.
The fever element is also a good way of telling the two apart. Despite the name, hay fever doesn’t cause a high temperature and most people don’t feel unwell because of it, whereas coronavirus can cause a fever and achiness – like the flu.
“If you do find that you are sneezing a lot more and are worried it could be Covid-19 but you do not also have a fever, achiness or a sore throat then it’s likely that you are just suffering with allergy symptoms,” reassures Dr Gall.
However, a dry cough is “not typically” a reaction to allergies, she adds, so if you experience a continuous, dry cough, Dr Gall advises you to self-isolate, just to be on the safe side. This means staying indoors for seven days if you live alone or 14 days as a household.
Symptoms of 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
- feeling tired
Symptoms of coronavirus
- a high temperature
- a new, continuous cough – coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
- shortness of breath
- aches and pains
- sore throat
- very few people will report diarrhoea, nausea or a runny nose, according to the World Health Organisation.
Why am I getting hay fever symptoms indoors?
If you’re not leaving your house much at the moment but are finding you’re still struggling with symptoms, this shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
“Pollen particles can travel far and wide and if you are opening doors and windows more often to let in air, chances are these particles will be able to come into your home and will find their way into your facial orifices, hence the sneezing and itchy eyes whilst working indoors,” says Dr Gall.
How to deal with hay fever
The best thing you can do to combat hay fever is to take a daily antihistamine, as well as using allergy eye drops and nasal sprays. You can still get these from some pharmacies that have remained open, as well as online pharmacies.
If you don’t have any of these items to hand, try applying Vaseline to the inside of your nose. This acts as a barrier and traps pollen before you breathe it in.
It’s also worth trying to keep your house as dust-free as you can, says Dr Gall, so wash bed sheets regularly, and also wash your face and rinse your nasal passages regularly with a salt water solution.
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, midday is a good time to get outdoors as pollen levels tend to be lower than earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon and evening.
If you do venture outside, wear sunglasses (wraparound ones are best) to prevent pollen from getting in and irritating your eyes. And if you’re in public spaces, don’t forget to stay stay socially distanced in keeping with guidance.
Once you’re back indoors, wash your hands to help stop the spread of coronavirus and have a shower to wash away any pollen from your hair and skin, advises Donovan, and put your clothes straight in the wash.
This article was first published April 7, 2020 and has been updated.