The SARS-CoV-2 virus is contagious and causes COVID-19. Some of the symptoms of hay fever and COVID-19 can overlap, but there are also differences between the conditions.

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is an overreaction of the immune system to particles in the air, such as pollen, animal dander, or dust mites. Hay fever is not contagious.

This article looks at how to tell the difference between hay fever and COVID-19, the treatment options for both, and when to see a doctor.

Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.

a woman coughing into a tissue where she is unsure if it's covid 19 or hay feverShare on Pinterest
COVID-19 and hayfever are very different conditions, but some of the symptoms overlap.

A dry cough and fever are common symptoms of COVID-19. COVID-19 can also cause shortness of breath. Hay fever does not usually cause a cough or shortness of breath unless it triggers asthma.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sneezing and itchy or watery eyes are more common symptoms of seasonal allergies.

The CDC list the following symptoms as being more common in COVID-19:

The following table, based on information from the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, compares the symptoms of hay fever and COVID-19:

SymptomHay feverCOVID-19
FeverRare, mildTypical
TirednessOccasionalOccasional
CoughOccasional, if allergic asthmaTypical, dry cough
SneezingTypicalNone
Joint painNoneOccasional
Runny noseTypicalRare
Sore throatRare, burning or itching sensationOccasional
DiarrheaNoneRare
HeadacheRareOccasional
Shortness of breathOccasional, if allergic asthmaOccasional
Itchy eyesFrequentNone

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, COVID-19 symptoms can last 7–25 days and range from mild to severe. They may appear within 2–14 days of coming into contact with the virus.

Seasonal allergy symptoms can last for several weeks and come on suddenly.

Triggers of hay fever include:

  • pollen, such as from plants, trees, and grass
  • mold
  • pet hair and dander
  • dust mites
  • chemical irritants, such as cigarette smoke, perfume, or exhaust fumes

People may develop COVID-19 symptoms if they come into contact with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Experts think that the SARS-Cov-2 virus primarily spreads through close contact between people who are within roughly 6 feet of each other.

They believe that it can spread through droplets in the air when a person with the virus coughs, sneezes, or talks. The virus may also spread if people touch a surface contaminated with the virus and then touch their face.

It is possible to have both hay fever and COVID-19 at the same time. If people have a cough and fever alongside their hay fever symptoms, they may also have a respiratory virus.

People may be able to manage hay fever by reducing their exposure to triggers. They can do this by:

  • staying inside during periods of high pollen and keeping the windows closed
  • wearing sunglasses or glasses outdoors to protect the eyes from pollen
  • using dust mite-resistant bedding
  • using a dehumidifier to reduce mold
  • washing the hands after handling or petting an animal
  • avoiding hanging clothes out to dry, as they can gather pollen
  • refraining from rubbing the eyes
  • using a damp cloth or mop to clean floors

If people are still experiencing symptoms or are unable to avoid all triggers, the following medications may relieve symptoms:

  • Intranasal corticosteroids: People can spray this medication into the nostrils, taking care to avoid the middle section of the nose. These medications are the most effective in treating hay fever and can reduce congestion, sneezing, and an itchy, runny nose. Side effects can include irritation and nosebleeds.
  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines work against histamine, the chemical that the body releases during an allergic reaction, which is responsible for hay fever symptoms. People can take antihistamines orally or in the form of eye drops and nasal sprays.
  • Decongestants: Decongestants work to reduce stuffiness and congestion but do not relieve any other hay fever symptoms.

People can check with their doctor which medications are safe for them to use and discuss the possible side effects, particularly if they have any preexisting conditions or are pregnant.

Face coverings that people may wear outdoors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 might also help prevent the inhalation of larger pollen particles. However, people may still inhale smaller particles in the air through a face covering.

It is important to wash a face covering after wearing it to avoid inhaling any irritating particles that may be on the material.

People may be able to treat mild symptoms of COVID-19 at home. The CDC advise the following steps for the at-home treatment of COVID-19:

  • staying at home, except to seek medical care
  • avoiding public places and transport
  • getting plenty of rest
  • staying well-hydrated
  • taking acetaminophen to relieve symptoms
  • wearing a mask or other face covering if leaving home for essentials
  • staying away from others in the home as much as possible and wearing a face covering around other people and animals
  • using a separate bathroom to others in the home, if possible

People can also keep track of their symptoms and contact their doctor if they worsen.

If people have hay fever that does not respond to over-the-counter medication, they can see their doctor for further treatment options.

People can call their doctor if they have symptoms of COVID-19. If people have the following symptoms, they should seek medical attention immediately:

If people are unsure whether they have hay fever or COVID-19, they can contact their doctor to see whether they will need to test for COVID-19.

The main symptoms of hay fever are a runny nose, sneezing, and watery, itchy eyes. The main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, and a dry cough.

If people have hay fever that triggers asthma, they may also experience a cough and shortness of breath.

People may be able to treat mild cases of hay fever or COVID-19 at home. Anyone who thinks that they may have symptoms of COVID-19 should contact a doctor.

If people have any severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, they should seek medical attention immediately.

For live updates on the latest developments regarding the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, click here.