How to tell the difference between hay fever and Covid-19

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Hay fever sufferers have been given advice on how to avoid confusing their allergy with signs of coronavirus.

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) said some people might be concerned that there was an overlap in symptoms.

Its chairman, Professor Martin Marshall, said: “We would normally expect to see a number of patients at this time of year suffering with symptoms of allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as hay fever – an allergic reaction to various types of pollen.

“Typically, patients suffering with hay fever will experience symptoms such as a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, sore and watering eyes – but also sometimes a cough.

“Some of these presenting problems, especially a cough, can also be symptoms of Covid-19.”

He separately told the BBC on Monday: “It’s not surprising given the overlap between some hay fever symptoms and mild coronavirus that people might be concerned.”

According to the NHS, the main coronavirus symptoms are a high temperature and a new, continuous cough.

People have been told to self-isolate at home for seven days if they experience such symptoms.

But Prof Marshall said there were important characteristics of hay fever that could help patients tell it apart from Covid-19.

“Allergy symptoms tend to be milder and fluctuate depending on the time of day as pollen levels are often higher in the afternoon and evening,” he explained.

“Similarly, wet weather may lead to patients experiencing milder symptoms.

“Patients who regularly suffer from hay fever will be familiar with the symptoms they usually get and the severity of them.

“In instances where a patient experiences a significant deviation from this, or have specific symptoms of Covid-19 – a new, persistent cough and a high temperature – we urge them to follow Government advice and self-isolate.”

Prof Marshall said that if patients see their symptoms persist or worsen they should get medical advice through the NHS 111 service or their GP.

Dr Jonathan Leach, joint honorary secretary at RCGP, advised people unsure about their symptoms to take a “precautionary approach”.

He added: “If there is some concern that it could be coronavirus then people should be self-isolating.”

Guidance for allergy sufferers on the website of charity Allergy UK says: “Coronavirus symptoms typically include a continuous cough and a temperature as well as sometimes causing headaches and muscle aches. These are not symptoms of hay fever.

“Hay fever symptoms are persistent and relatively predictable depending on the pollen count.

“Symptoms of runny, itchy nose and sneezing which are typical of hay fever are not typical of coronavirus.

“Hay fever should respond to antihistamines and, if you have been prescribed them, nasal sprays.

“We would 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.”

Grass pollen is the most common allergen, with the season lasting from mid-May to July, but tree pollen can also cause hay fever.

According to the Met Office, the tree pollen season in the UK runs from late March to mid-May, and affects around 25% of people.

Forecasters are predicting a high or moderate risk of tree pollen for most of the UK this week.

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