Hay fever is a type of allergic conjunctivitis that occurs as a reaction to pollen. Common symptoms of hay fever include a runny or blocked nose, sneezing and red, itchy eyes — although recent reports show that there may be some overlap with symptoms of coronavirus (Sars-Cov-2) and the corresponding disease, COVID-19.
As pollen levels begin to increase this allergy season, some people may find it difficult to tell whether they are suffering from hay fever or coronavirus. To clear-up some of this confusion, we’ve put together this guide to hayfever and coronavirus symptoms to help you understand the difference.
Do hay fever and allergies make you more vulnerable to COVID-19?
As of now, there is no evidence to suggest that suffering from hay fever or allergic conjunctivitis places you at a higher risk of developing coronavirus (Sars-Cov-2). Having the same risk as everyone else still means a responsibility to follow the government’s current advice on social distancing and other measures such as frequent hand washing.
Hay fever or coronavirus symptoms? How to tell the difference
According to the World Health Organisation, the main symptoms of COVID-19 are high temperature and a new or persistent cough.4 However, in rarer cases, it can sometimes cause allergy-like symptoms which may make it difficult for some people to differentiate between hay fever and coronavirus during allergy season. For most people who have hay fever, symptoms will be the same as in previous years.
For most people who have hay fever, symptoms will be the same as in previous years. If you have hayfever and asthma, your symptoms (breathlessness or wheezing) might also worsen during high-pollen months, which can be easy to confuse with some signs of coronavirus. In this case, it’s important to speak to your GP for further guidance.
There are a few symptoms that can help you tell the difference between hayfever and coronavirus:
- Symptoms of runny, itchy nose and sneezing which are typical of hay fever are not typical of coronavirus
- Allergy symptoms do not typically include fever, sore throat, or achiness, which have been reported in patients with coronavirus
- Allergy symptoms typically include itchiness (itchy eyes, itchy ears, itchy nose, itchy throat), which are not common signs of coronavirus
- Allergy symptoms usually change depending on your environment — worsening when outside and easing at night
Hay fever symptoms should ease with antihistamines and, if you have been prescribed them, nasal sprays. We recommend that you treat hay fever proactively to minimise your symptoms, reducing the tendency for you to touch your face due to itch, and prevent unintentional spread of coronavirus by sneezing.
Are itchy eyes a sign of coronavirus?
Sore, red eyes are a common symptom of allergic conjunctivitis, which is why many hay fever-sufferers are experiencing them now during the high-pollen season.
In some cases, coronavirus can also cause conjunctivitis, but it’s quite rare — occurring in about 1-3 % of affected people. Conjunctivitis associated with COVID-19 tends to occur in the later stages of the disease and alongside the more common symptoms such as a continuous cough and fever.
Is sneezing a symptom of coronavirus?
While sneezing, a runny nose, and postnasal drip are common symptoms of allergies or the common cold, they are not typical of COVID-19
I take antihistamines to manage my hay fever symptoms. Is it still safe to do so?
Yes, provided there is no other change in your medications or well being, hay-fever remedies such as antihistamines should be used as normal. However, don’t forget to re-read all of the instructions and contact your pharmacist or GP if you have any questions or concerns.
If you are using eye drops or nasal spray to manage your hay fever symptoms, make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly before and after administering them. Take a look at the HSE handwashing guidelines for more information on how to do this correctly.
How to manage hay fever and allergy symptoms during COVID-19
In general, you should avoid rubbing your face and eyes and regularly wash your hands to limit the spread of the infection. As hay fever is caused by exposure to pollen, you can do the following to limit your symptoms:
- Keep an eye on daily pollen counts so you can take necessary precautions
- Avoid going outside on days with high pollen counts wherever possible
- Use antihistamines or nasal spray as advised by your doctor or pharmacist
- Avoid hanging your clothes to dry outdoors
- Wear wraparound sunglasses to prevent pollen getting into your eyes
You can find more guidance on managing hay fever here.
I have hayfever and I suspect I have COVID-19. What should I do?
If you think you might have COVID-19, then you should begin following official HSE self-isolation guidelines. Allergic conjunctivitis usually gets better on its own as the pollen settles, so be sure to keep track of your symptoms and contact your GP if you are ever concerned.
If you suddenly notice some of the symptoms we've mentioned, get in touch with your local store team for advice.
For more updates and eyecare guidance during coronavirus, visit our COVID-19 Care resource.
1. HSE (2019). Washing Your Hands [online]. Available at: https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/5/publichealth/publichealthdepts/resources/handwashing.pdf [accessed 21 April 2020]
2. The New England Journal of Medicine (2020). Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China [online]. Available at: https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa2002032 [accessed 21 April 2020]
3. Allergy UK (2020) . Coronavirus and allergies Frequently asked questions [online]. Available at: https://www.allergyuk.org/assets/000/002/966/Coronavirus_and_Allergies_FAQ_and_Answers_v6_original.pdf?1585241150 [accessed 21st April 2020]
4. World Health Organisation (2021). Coronavirus [online]. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-top... [accessed 18 February 2021]
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