Hay fever or coronavirus? How to tell the difference

Dr Luke Powles
Associate Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK
13 September 2023
Next review due September 2026

Despite Hay fever being more common during the spring and summer, some people are affected by pollen from March to September. This can make it harder to tell if sniffs and sneezes are being caused by an allergy or an infection such as coronavirus.

Here, I’ll explain how to tell the difference.

A person in a blue tie blowing their nose

How can I tell if it’s hay fever or Covid?

The key symptoms of coronavirus are different to those of hay fever (allergic rhinitis). The main symptoms of coronavirus  are:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia)
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • headache

Whereas, with hay fever, the most common symptoms are:

  • sneezing
  • a blocked or runny nose (known as rhinorrhoea)
  • itchy eyes, nose, throat, and roof of your mouth
  • red or watery eyes
  • postnasal drip (mucus dripping down your throat from the back of your nose)
  • headache, caused by a stuffy nose

With hay fever you are not likely to experience a cough or a temperature, which can help you to tell the two apart.

Although a blocked nose due to hay fever can affect your smell or taste, completely losing your ability to taste or smell is more likely to result from coronavirus.

How severe are hay fever symptoms?

Hay fever symptoms aren’t usually serious and, generally, you won’t feel too ill. However, if your symptoms are bad, they can impact your day-to-day life, and leave you feeling miserable.

A blocked nose is usually the most troublesome hay fever symptom. Red, watery, or itchy eyes are also called allergic conjunctivitis. Some people with hay fever only have symptoms that affect their eyes.

Does having hay fever make me more vulnerable to coronavirus?

There is no evidence to suggest that you’re more vulnerable to coronavirus if you have allergies. This is because an allergy is not an autoimmune disease. Allergy is a result of an exaggerated immune response to an allergen, such as pollen. Your immune system essentially overreacts, causing the symptoms you experience. You should be able to respond to infection as effectively as anyone else.

Can anti-allergy medicines effect my immunity?

Medication such as antihistamines tablets  and nasal sprays are generally considered safe, so you should continue to use these to manage your hay fever symptoms during this time. There is no research to show that antihistamines lower the immune response.

However, oral steroids and immunosuppressive tablets could affect your immunity. Your doctor or specialist will likely have made you aware of this if you are affected.

Hay fever, coronavirus, and asthma

For some people, pollen can trigger asthma attacks or make their asthma worse. Coronavirus can cause breathing difficulties, putting those with severe asthma at increased risk.

  • If you have asthma and are prone to hay fever, you should make sure you take your asthma medicines as prescribed, and always carry your inhaler with you
  • control hay fever symptoms with medicines and reduce your exposure to pollen as much as you can
  • take steps to avoid catching coronavirus by washing your hands  regularly and staying away from people who are unwell

Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health and a view of any future health risks. You'll receive a personal lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a happier, healthier you.

Dr Luke Powles
Dr Luke Powles
Associate Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK



Julia Ebbens, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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