In Depth

Hay fever or coronavirus? The symptoms

GPs warn people not to confuse symptoms as high pollen count arrives

GPs have warned people with hay fever not to confuse their reaction to pollen with the new coronavirus.

While many of the symptoms are different, some are the same. For example, hay fever can prompt a cough similar to that associated with coronavirus.

Dr Jonathan Leach, of the Royal College of GPs, said: “For most people who have hay fever it is the same symptoms as they have each year.

“What we are finding is that some patients are saying ‘look this is a different thing to what I had last year, could this be coronavirus?’ and in that case it might be.”

The Met Office has forecasted high pollen counts throughout the week for most parts of the UK, which makes the symptoms of hay fever worse.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

According to the NHS and the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms usually include:

  • A cough and/or sore throat
  • A high temperature
  • Feeling tired
  • Difficulty breathing

Government guidelines say you must not leave your home if you are experiencing a high temperature – “this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back”, or a new, continuous cough – “this means coughing a lot for more than an hour”, says the NHS.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

More than a quarter of the UK population suffer from some form of hay fever, which is usually at its worst between late March and September, especially when it is warm, humid and windy. This is when the pollen count is at its highest.

According to the NHS, symptoms of hay fever include:

  • 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, you might also:

  • have a tight feeling in your chest
  • be short of breath
  • wheeze and cough
How can you protect yourself from coronavirus?

The WHO has issued guidelines on how to avoid infection from the new coronavirus.

The United Nations agency says everyone should be vigilant about washing their hands, using either soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub, especially after coughing or sneezing and before, during and after preparing food.

When coughing or sneezing, be careful to cover the mouth and nose with a tissue or a flexed elbow, and then throw away tissues immediately, ideally into a bin that can be closed.

Avoid unprotected contact with live wild or farm animals, including strays. In terms of food safety, meat and eggs should be cooked thoroughly, with different chopping boards and knives used for raw meat and cooked foods.

Avoiding close contact with anyone is important, particularly where they may be showing cold or flu-like symptoms.

WHO recommends maintaining a two-metre distance from other people where possible, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever. 

How can you protect yourself from hay fever?

Allergy UK says hay fever sufferers should proactively work to minimise symptoms before they occur. Many of the techniques are similar to those used to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

People should wash their hands regularly and, on high-pollen days, make sure they shower and wash their hair if they have been outside, since pollen is very good at collecting on skin, hair and clothes. Wash bed sheets weekly in hot water.

The NHS also recommends:

  • putting Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen
  • wearing wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes
  • staying indoors whenever possible - which shouldn’t be too hard at the moment
  • keeping windows and doors shut as much as possible
  • vacuuming regularly and dusting with a damp cloth
  • buying a pollen filter for the air vents in your car and a vacuum cleaner with a special high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter

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