Here's when hay fever season starts and how to tell allergy symptoms from coronavirus

With hay fever season set to start at the end of March, some people will be wondering whether a cough and runny nose are signs of an allergy to pollen or something more sinister.

And if you suffer from hay fever, are you more susceptible to coronavirus, since it’s been said to affect those with respiratory conditions?

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As the virus continues to spread throughout the globe, the advice is to avoid your GP if you have symptoms - so here’s how to spot the difference between hay fever and coronavirus, and whether it puts you at risk.

What’s the difference between hay fever and coronavirus symptoms?

Allergy UK advises that hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, can feature “a runny nose, blocked nose, cough, and sneezing. In some people, hay fever can trigger allergic asthma, causing a tight chest and difficulty breathing.”

While a wide variety of symptoms have been reported in connection with coronavirus, the two most common ones are a high temperature and a new, continuous cough.

Hay fever does not cause a high temperature, and according to Allergy UK it doesn’t make people feel unwell.

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It can usually be easily treated with medications such as antihistamines and nasal steroid spray, which you can buy at a pharmacy.

What causes hay fever?

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen from trees, grass and weeds, which occurs at a certain time of year.

The higher the pollen count – the amount of pollen grains in a certain volume of air - the more severe the symptoms are likely to be.

In the UK, a count of 50 or below is considered low, while 1,000 or above is considered high.

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When is hay fever season in the UK?

Hay fever usually affects people in the early spring and summer months.

According to Allergy UK, different forms of pollen are likely to trigger it at different times:

- Grass pollen between May and July

- Tree pollen between February and September

- Weed pollen between June and September

The pollen count will also tend to be higher in the early part of the morning and the later part of the evening but it can remain high all day, decreasing at night as the air cools.

When the grass is damp, it will peak later in the morning as the water evaporates, releasing the pollen.

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On sunnier days, the pollen count will be higher, while rain can wash the pollen away. However, days that are cloudy but dry will see the pollen build up to be released on the next sunny day.

However, there is also “perennial allergic rhinitis” which sees symptoms persist all through the year. It is usually triggered by indoor allergens like dust mites, pet hair or mould.

Does suffering from hay fever put you at risk of coronavirus?

The World Health Organisation advises that people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the coronavirus.

However, as of yet no connection has been made between hay fever and the coronavirus.

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Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

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What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of the 12 March the Government has moved into the "delay" phase of its plan to tackle coronavirus. Advice is that anyone with a continuous cough or high temperature should self-isolate for seven days. People over 70 have been advised not to go on cruises and schools advised to cancel trips abroad, though schools remain open.

Should I avoid public places?

Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

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When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS

This article originally appeared on our sister site, The Scotsman.