Do I have COVID-19 or hay fever? Here’s how to find out

Nottingham (UK): With warm weather in the northern hemisphere, many people will be allergic to pollen. Also known as hay fever, this common condition affects millions of people around the world during the spring, summer, and fall months. Meanwhile, cases of COVID-19 are high.

Although seasonal allergies are common to many people, there is significant overlap between symptoms of Covid and hay fever. This may lead people to mistakenly believe that COVID is an allergy, which in turn exacerbates the spread of COVID in the community. Notably, we are now often seeing milder symptoms of COVID than they were earlier in the pandemic. This is due to a combination of factors including increased immunity from previous vaccines and infections, and the development of new types of virus. Of course, it’s a good idea that people generally don’t get Covid disease. At the same time, it can actually increase confusion between COVID and other diseases or allergies.

The latest data from the UK’s ZOE app, which tracks self-reported COVID symptoms, shows that the most common symptoms of COVID are now sore throat, followed by headache, cough, stuffy nose and runny nose. All of these symptoms can affect people with pollen allergies. So it is very likely that someone will ignore COVID as the start of the usual allergy.

Although there are many overlapping symptoms, there are some key symptoms that may help you differentiate COVID from hay fever:

Itchy eyes: Itchy, red, watery or puffy eyes are a common sign of pollen allergy, but are not associated with COVID.

Fever or chills: A high temperature is not a sign of a pollen allergy, but a fairly common COVID symptom. So if you have a fever, as well as other symptoms, you may have COVID or another respiratory infection.

Diarrhea, vomiting and nausea: Diarrhea in particular can be an early sign of COVID, starting from the first day of infection and often getting worse from there. It is not associated with pollen allergy.

Muscle pain: The muscle pain associated with COVID can range from being mild to quite debilitating, especially when it occurs along with fatigue. Muscle aches and pains are not associated with a pollen allergy. Differences can also be seen in some symptoms of pollen allergy and COVID. For example, a cough associated with COVID is usually permanent and dry, while a cough associated with hay fever is more “flaky,” due to mucus from the nose showing up in the throat. Likewise, the loss of smell and taste in pollen allergies results from a stuffy nose, so if you have these symptoms without a stuffy nose, it’s likely COVID.

If your pollen allergy symptoms seem worse than usual, or you have one or more of the characteristic symptoms listed above, a prompt COVID test is recommended.

Controlling allergy symptoms can help prevent truancy from work and school, and potentially facilitate early identification of COVID symptoms, in combination with testing. Moreover, although there is no link between allergies and an increased risk of contracting COVID, exposure to pollen can actually weaken the body’s immunity to COVID. If you have a history of allergy to pollen, make sure your treatment plan is up-to-date and that you have medications available when you need them. Exposure to pollen can be reduced by avoiding outdoor activities when the pollen count is high, keeping windows closed, changing clothes after going outside, and using an air purifier.

The best ways to prevent COVID infection still include vaccination, wearing appropriate face coverings, and physical distancing. If you are looking for the best of both worlds, a particulate filter mask can be protective against pollen and COVID.

(White is Senior Lecturer in Genetic Immunology, Nottingham Trent University; Wilson is Professor at One Health, Nottingham Trent University; Courtesy: The Conversation)

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