Allergy or coronavirus? How to tell the difference

Here's how to tell if you're suffering from allergy or coronavirus

allergy or coronavirus?
(Image credit: Getty)

Is is an allergy or coronavirus? As we enter hay fever season, many people are beginning to experience seasonal symptoms including itchy eyes, runny or blocked noses, and throat irritation. In some cases, hay fever can also be accompanied to a cough – a known symptom of Covid-19. How do you tell the difference between the two, and when should you self-isolate at home? 

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Allergy or coronavirus: how to tell them apart

The most important thing to remember about allergies is that they tend to recur, and the symptoms should be predictable. Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, explains:

'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.'

In other words, if your allergy symptoms don't really feel like allergy symptoms this year, it's best to veer on the side of caution and stay at home for seven days. 

Things may be more confusing for those who are suffering from hay fever for the first time – the nature of allergies is such that you can develop them at any point in your life. So, if you're experiencing hay fever symptoms and haven't before, don't panic: if you don't have a fever or a dry cough, or shortness of breath, you likely have developed hay fever. If your only symptoms are itchiness and sneezing, it's almost certainly hay fever.

Marshall gives more helpful points for identifying a seasonal pollen allergy:

  • Symptoms fluctuate throughout the day, getting worse in the afternoon or evening;
  • Symptoms get better during wetter weather;
  • Symptoms are mainly presenting as nasal congestion and sore or watering eyes.

Another thing to try it to take an antihistamine such as loratadine and see if symptoms subside (you should be taking antihistamines if you suffer from seasonal allergies anyway, as symptoms can get worse if nothing is done to alleviate them). 

Allergy UK has lots of useful advice to help allergy sufferers – from questions about continuing allergy medications to what to do if you're self-isolating and can't get your allergy medications. 

Of course, if your symptoms do not improve over time or you begin to experience a cough and a fever alongside these symptoms, you should stay at home and call 111.

Coronavirus or flu?

Again, it can be worryingly difficult to tell which one you have, but the main rule is that influenza doesn't normally cause a shortness of breath. If in doubt, consult NHS 111 online as your first port of call. Only call 111 if you can't get help online. 

The main symptoms of coronavirus are: 

A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature).

A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual).

Do not leave your home if you have either symptom. To protect others, do not go to places like a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Stay at home.

  • The most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus is to wash your hands regularly. Find out how to wash your hands correctly