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Urinary Incontinence

Seasonal Allergies vs the Common Cold

In this article well look at the similarities and differences between hay fever and the common cold.

Is It Hay Fever or a Cold?

This article has been medically approved by Superintendent Pharmacist Shilpa Shailen Karia, MRPharmS. - GPhC Reg No: 2087328


With hay fever season upon us, you may find yourself wondering if the symptoms you are suffering are due to the pollen, or if you are feeling under the weather. Read our article below to find out the similarities and differences of a common cold and hay fever.

What is the common cold?

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat). Colds are the most common infection that we experience, with the average adult getting 2 to 3 colds a year. [1]

Colds are mostly associated with Winter, but you can get them at any time of year.

Typically, a cold will clear up by itself in around 7 to 10 days, although you may experience symptoms for up to 3 weeks. Cold and flu medications can be purchased to control symptoms.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen, typically when you breathe it in, or it comes into contact with your eyes. Pollen is a fine powder from plants. Hay fever season is typically from March to September, although you may not experience hay fever for the whole period. This is because people can be allergic to the different types of pollen, like tree pollen, grass pollen, and weed pollen.

Medicinal products can be bought to control symptoms, such as antihistamines and nasal sprays.

Common symptoms

Colds and hay fever can be easily confused, as they have many similar symptoms. These include sneezing, runny nose, congestion, sinus pan and coughing.

The differences

One symptom in particular can help you to differentiate between hay fever and a cold, the itchiness. If you have red, watery, itchy eyes, an itchy throat and mouth, and even sore ears, you probably have hay fever. These symptoms are rarely experienced with a cold.

Another way to tell the difference is your nasal discharge. A cold can cause yellowish/green discharge, whereas with hay fever it will usually be clear.

As well as this, if you have a sore throat, rather than just an itchy, dry throat, it is probably a cold.

Quick ways to tell the difference

When its a cold you are more likely to:

  • Notice symptoms coming on gradually
  • Symptoms usually last 7 to 10 days, although it could be up to 3 weeks
  • Have a sore or dry throat
  • Have nasal discharge which is yellowish/green

When its hay fever you are more likely to:

  • Feel itchy (Eyes, throat, top of mouth, ears)
  • Notice symptoms appear all at once (after you have been exposed to the pollen)
  • Have symptoms for longer (they last as long as you are exposed to the pollen)
  • Have clear nasal discharge
  • COVID-19

    If you have a temperature of 37.8c or higher or a new, continuous cough, stay at home and use 111 online to check your symptoms.

    [1] Common Cold by Prof. Bruce Arroll

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