How to spot if your cough is coronavirus or hay fever

Alexandra Thompson
·3-min read

The arrival of spring brings a sense of optimism for many during the UK’s coronavirus lockdown.

Sunshine spells, blooming flowers and balmy evenings will no doubt encourage Britons to make the most of their daily dose of exercise.

Yet with spring comes clouds of pollen, leaving many hay fever sufferers coughing and spluttering.

Up to two in five children suffer from hay fever, while between 10% and 30% of adults develop the irritating symptoms when the pollen count rises.

With a cough a key symptom of both the coronavirus and hay fever, how can you tell if your spluttering is serious?

BEIJING, CHINA - APRIL 7, 2020: A young woman in a face mask admires tree blossoms at Ritan Park; the Chinese authorities declaring the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, on the whole, successfully contained, residents of Beijing began to spend more time outside and visit city parks. Artyom IVanov/TASS (Photo by Artyom Ivanov\TASS via Getty Images)
A woman admires tree blossom at Ritan Park in Beijing. (Getty Images)

How do coronavirus and hay fever symptoms compare?

As well as a cough, the coronavirus typically causes fever and slight breathlessness.

Coughing is also a common symptom of hay fever; however, an allergy to pollen only sometimes triggers shortness of breath.

Early research suggests the coronavirus is mild in four out of five cases, but it can lead to a respiratory disease called COVID-19.

An Italian red cross volunteer wearing a sanitary mask to protect against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) picks tulip flowers to be offered to medical staff in the Roma flowers park in Rome on April 8, 2020. - Roma Flowers Park and Interflora have donated bouquets of tulips to the Red Cross to be offered to volunteers, doctors and nurses to thank them for their efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo by TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images)
A Red Cross volunteer wears a mask while picking tulips for medical staff in Rome. (Getty Images)

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A raised temperature does not commonly occur with hay fever, despite its name.

“Hay fever doesn’t cause a high temperature and most people don’t feel unwell,” said Boots chief pharmacist Marc Donovan.

Sneezing is a common symptom of hay fever, and only sometimes comes about with the coronavirus.

Nevertheless, sneezing is one of the main routes of coronavirus transmission, when somebody in close proximity to a patient inhales infected droplets.

The coronavirus and hay fever both commonly cause fatigue.

Although not an officially recognised symptom, a loss of taste or smell is increasingly being reported among coronavirus patients.

Muted senses are also a tell-tale sign of hay fever.

Despite all their symptom similarities, the coronavirus and hay fever also have marked differences.

Aches and pains do not occur with hay fever, but are sometimes reported with the coronavirus.

Hay fever does not cause diarrhoea, whereas some coronavirus sufferers have complained of loose bowels. Faeces are thought to be one of the less common ways the virus is transmitted.

Headaches are common during spring for those with hay fever, but do not generally occur in coronavirus patients.

Some people with the coronavirus develop a sore throat, which is uncommon with hay fever.

In reverse, a runny or stuffy nose is a common hay fever complaint, but not with the coronavirus.

“Typical hay fever symptoms include sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, itchy red watery eyes or an itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears,” said Donovan.

TOPSHOT - A police officer wearing a face mask and gloves presents a flower to a woman on the Motherhood and Beauty Day in downtown Yerevan on April 7, 2020, amid the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (Photo by KAREN MINASYAN / AFP) (Photo by KAREN MINASYAN/AFP via Getty Images)
A police officer gives a flower to a woman on 'Motherhood and Beauty Day' in Yerevan, Armenia. (Getty Images)

What is the coronavirus?

The coronavirus is one of seven strains of a virus class that are known to infect humans.

Others trigger everything from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed 774 people during its 2002/3 outbreak.

Although cases are usually mild, pneumonia can come about if the coronavirus spreads to the air sacs in the lungs.

This causes them to become inflamed and filled with fluid or pus.

The lungs then struggle to draw in air, resulting in reduced oxygen in the bloodstream and a build-up of carbon dioxide.

The coronavirus has no “set” treatment, with most patients naturally fighting off the infection.

Those requiring hospitalisation are offered “supportive care”, like ventilation, while their immune system gets to work.

Officials urge people to ward off the coronavirus by washing their hands regularly and maintaining social distancing.