Coronavirus or hay fever symptoms? How to tell the difference as pollen season starts this month

Coronavirus or hay fever symptoms? How to tell the difference as pollen season starts this month

March 2, 2021

AFTER weeks of wind, rain and snow, most of the country basked in balmy spring temperatures over the weekend.

But warmer weather can also spark the very first symptoms for those with hay fever.

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While the pollen season doesn't typically start until the end of March, different factors can cause it to start sooner – such as climate change.

And with coronavirus still very much in circulation, there may be some doubt as to whether symptoms are Covid or hay fever.

Experts say that those with pollen allergies will be all too familiar with the signs.

But for those who think they are experiencing hay fever for the first time, symptoms include:

  • a runny or blocked nose
  • sneezing and coughing
  • itchy or watery eyes

While little was known about Covid at the start of the pollen season last year, experts have come to understand more about the symptoms since.

Health officials say there are three key symptoms to look out for when it comes to coronavirus – and if you have any of these you must order a test:

  • A fever
  • New, continuous cough
  • Loss of smell or taste

However, there are some symptoms that could easily be mistaken for both, such as a cough.

But there are some signs of Covid that have emerged more recently that could also crossover, including a change to the sense of taste or smell.

The NHS says a cold or flu, sinusitis, hay fever or growths in the nose can be the cause of a change to the sense of smell.

A change to the sense of smell was added to the official Covid symptoms list last year after a rise in cases of the bizarre side-effect.

Scientists behind the ZOE Covid Symptom Tracker noticed more people were reporting the symptom to their app.

The experts, from King's College, eventually managed to get it recognised asa formal sign of Covid to stop positive infections going unidentified.

What can I do to prepare myself for hay fever season? 3 top tips…

If you know you usually suffer with hay fever, it’s important to do all you can reduce your risk of it triggering an asthma attack.

You can do this by following these 3 top tips from Jessica Kirby, head of health advice at Asthma UK:

  1. If you normally get hay fever, make sure you get your medicines well in advance, so you’re ready for when the pollen count is high. It’s a good idea to start taking these 2-3 weeks before pollen season starts. Antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays are great for blitzing symptoms, but if you’re not sure which hay fever treatment to try, ask your pharmacist.
  2. Take your preventer inhaler as prescribed. Make sure you’re taking your preventer inhaler every day, exactly as prescribed, to reduce the risk of pollens or hay fever triggering your asthma symptoms.
  3. Carry your reliever inhaler with you. Reliever inhalers (which are usually blue) quickly relax the muscles in your airways and ease your symptoms on the spot, so it’s important to take your reliever inhaler with you when you go out. If you’re needing to use your reliever inhaler 3 or more times per week, speak to your GP, pharmacist or asthma nurse. 


More recently they've been working to get skin rashes added to the list after noticing a similar rise.

In fact, researchers say they have identified eight different types of skin rash, including so-called Covid toes and tongue.

While a rash is not common with hay fever, it can sometimes cause irritation when the allergen comes into direct contact with the skin.

For example, if you're allergic to plants or flowers, touching them could cause an outbreak of hives.

Having this knowledge may help to work out whether the rash is a result of pollen-related allergies or Covid, experts say.


To help identify the difference between hay fever and Covid, Max Wiseberg, of Haymax, said: “If your mucus is clear, thin and watery it is more likely to be hay fever.

“And although it is called hay fever, a fever is unusual, whereas it is possible with coronavirus.

Max added: “Despite its name, hay fever is not contagious, whereas the coronavirus is – another reason for determining which one you are suffering from.

“To help prevent the spread of Covid, it’s important to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and wash hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

“Awareness of the coronavirus is key, so it’s crucial to avoid people who are sick and be aware of symptoms."

Crucially, if you are in any doubt, experts say you should self-isolate and order a Covid test.


The pollen season across the UK is separated into three main sections.

From late March to mid-May is tree pollen season, while mid-May to July is grass pollen season and weed pollen season runs from the end of June until September.

Grass pollen is the most common allergy and affects 90 per cent of people with hay fever, according to Allergy UK.

Pollen counts tend to be higher in early morning and late evening, although they can sometimes be high all day long.

If the grass is damp, the pollen peak will be later in the morning because the water evaporates before the pollen is released.

Pollen rises in the air during the day and then descends at night, as the air cools.

In rural areas, the evening peak tends to occur between 6pm and 9pm but in the city, where the air stays warmer for longer, the pollen descends later and levels tend to peak between 9pm and midnight or even later, which is why you may wake up sneezing in the night.


Experts say that one of the best ways to combat hay fever is to stay indoors.

With the country still in lockdown, this should be much easier to stick to than it has been in previous years.

But if you do go outside there are some measures you can take to ease those symptoms.

Max added: “Tie your hair up and wear a hat when outside to prevent pollen particles being caught in your hair and wear wraparound sunglasses to prevent pollen particles coming in contact with your eyes.

"Keep well hydrated and eat lots of fruit and vegetables to stay healthy and support your immune system.

"Shower at night before sleeping to remove pollen particles from your hair and body.”


He continued: "Close windows and doors to prevent pollen blowing into your home and vacuum the house regularly  – especially beds and fabrics – to remove pollen particles.

"Dry your clothes indoors rather than outdoors to prevent pollen particles being blown onto the clothes by the outside wind.”

You should also make sure any pets are well groomed and shampooed, as they can carry pollen particles in their fur, and keep them out of the room where you sleep.

There are also conventional over-the-counter medicines which can combat hay fever symptoms.

"Antihistamine tablets and capsules can relieve most hay fever symptoms – sneezing, itchy, runny eyes, skin irritation, itchy nose and throat – but are less effective for nasal congestion," according to Max.

"Antihistamine nasal sprays can quickly ease itching, sneezing and watering but generally only proof against mild symptoms.

"Steroid nasal sprays and drops help reduce inflammation in the nose.

"They work best for clearing nasal symptoms – itching, sneezing, watering & congestion – and sprays sometimes clear eye symptoms too.

"Eye drops may reduce itchy, watering, swollen eyes.”

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