September News 2020

Have I got COVID-19 or Hay Fever?

Spring has sprung and that means those of us who get hay fever are eyeing pollen-laden plants and windy weather forecasts with caution.

But it's also not the best time to have a runny nose and be coughing and spluttering in public while we're all worried about the spread of COVID-19.

Both hay fever and COVID-19 include respiratory symptoms.

Common COVID-19 symptoms can include:

  • - cough
  • - sore throat
  • - shortness of breath
  • - fever or chills
  • - the loss of smell or taste
  • - runny nose


Common symptoms of hay fever, otherwise known as allergic rhinitis:

  • - sneezing
  • - runny nose
  • - red, watery and itchy eyes


As we are coming into spring, the hay fever season can be confusing for our patients.

In Melbourne and on the Mornington Peninsula we typically see a springtime grass pollen season peaking between October and the start of December. As a result of the pollen season being short and sharp the hay fever that patients get from pollen exposure tends to be quite acute.

This means there will be a lot of sneezing associated with the hay fever, it will also be associated with an itchy throat and itchy eyes.

Some patients will get the sneezes and the runny nose, whilst others will experience itchy eyes and throat but a more chronic nasal congestion.

Those who get hay fever are also more likely to be asthmatic.

If you have hay fever, your risk of having asthma is at least double compared to that of the general population.

This may mean you feel a shortness of breath or cough with your hay fever symptoms, because you’re experiencing asthma alongside hay fever.


What are the differences between COVID-19 and hay fever?

So how best can you tell COVID-19 and hay fever apart?

Patients who regularly get hay fever will often know the symptoms well, such as the red, watery, itchy eyes.

This is a common hay fever symptom, which you don't get with COVID-19

Patients with hay fever generally don't develop a fever

With COVID-19 you may develop a sore throat but in hay fever you develop an itchy throat.

While sudden loss of smell is a symptom of COVID-19, some patients do get a sensation of reduced smell or taste with their hay fever.

And of course, if you've got a blocked nose due to bad hay fever you can't smell.

A Monash University study released on Friday has revealed that 85 percent of Australians who have cold or flu like symptoms are not getting tested

But because hay fever is so common, it's still much more likely that you'll have that even if you've never suffered from it before, rather than COVID-19.

We recommend getting in touch with your GP if you need support before getting tested.

If you're someone who gets hay fever and are worried about mistaking hay fever symptoms with those of COVID-19, or have symptoms that have changed or are getting worse, it's definitely worth following these up with your GP and/or getting tested for COVID-19

With the COVID-19 test itself, be prepared for a bit of a runny nose afterwards and a little bit of irritation.

Taking your own supply of tissues is a good idea because you don't want to share them around.

Wearing a mask in itself, can, for some patients, cause their noses to run a little bit more.

It's also important that you manage your hay fever like you normally would.

None of the usual treatments you might use have been shown to put you at greater risk for COVID-19.

The most effective treatments are the corticosteroid-based nose sprays and patients shouldn’t be frightened about utilising them for hay fever in the setting of COVID-19 because we want your symptoms to be well-controlled

Antihistamine tablets are also absolutely safe in the setting even of a COVID-type infection.


We could be in for a bad year

Keeping your hay fever under control is also very important because we could be in for a high pollen year across Australia and an early start to the season in the north, due in part to increased rain and the likelihood of a La Nina forming this spring.

So for patients who've got hay fever and have previously had asthma, now is the time to start taking your asthma preventer to protect yourself from severe or even thunderstorm asthma.

If there is a storm in the springtime, stay out of it, stay inside, that seems to be helpful.

COVID-19 and seasonal allergies like hay fever have a lot of common symptoms. (CDC)

Above is a handy Venn Diagram from the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that outlines the differences between symptoms of COVID-19 and seasonal allergies.

There isn’t enough evidence to know if getting regular bouts of hay fever puts you at higher risk of having a severe case of COVID-19.


What should you do?

We advise that if you do have respiratory symptoms and aren't sure if it's hay fever or COVID-19, you should get a COVID-19 test right away and then self-isolate until you get the results.

In this environment, if you've got a runny nose for the first time, you've got a cough for the first time, a COVID-19 test would be the first, most appropriate step rather than just taking some antihistamines and seeing if it goes away.

And as always, wear a mask.