Are COVID-19 and hay fever symptoms similar? Pharmacists issue advice

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As hay fever season begins, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has issued advice on recognising the difference between hay fever and COVID-19 symptoms.

One in five people in Ireland have hay fever, and pharmacists say that it is important that people know the key differences – for example, a fever or chills is common with COVID-19 but not a symptom of hay fever.

Pharmacists emphasised that even during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacies are still open and available to support people in the community, and that people do not need to suffer in silence.

Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is caused by pollen and spores creating an allergic reaction affecting the nose and sinuses.

While it can occur at any time of year, sufferers are particularly impacted from the spring until autumn.

Although hay fever is a relatively common condition, the symptoms can be extremely unpleasant.

Ann Marie Horan, a community pharmacist and Executive Committee member of the IPU, said that hay fever can make life miserable, especially for people with severe symptoms.

“However, the condition can often be effectively managed with a range of treatment options, including antihistamines, decongestants, corticosteroid nasal sprays and anti-allergy eye-drops,” said Ms Horan.

“The key to treating hay fever is finding the treatment that works for you. Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals and experts in medicines and can play a significant role in the management of allergies, including hay fever.”

She said that people can still phone their pharmacists for advice, and medicine delivery options are available for those who must stay at home.

“With everyone on high alert for COVID-19 symptoms, it can be difficult to rationalise which symptoms could be hay fever and which are associated with COVID-19. The below IPU graphic illustrating the differences is very useful.”

Ms Horan also provided some general advice on managing hay fever. “Sufferers should monitor the pollen forecast and take particular care when the count is high. You can reduce hay fever symptoms by doing the following:

  • Keep doors and windows closed at home and when driving;
  • Apply a little Vaseline inside the nose to trap pollen and stop it being inhaled;
  • Wear sunglasses, preferably wraparound glasses which prevent pollen entering the eyes;
  • Don’t mow the grass and avoid working in the garden;
  • Don’t dry clothes outside if possible; and
  • Wash your hair, hands and face when you come back indoors and change your clothes to get rid of any pollen.”

Pharmacists also warn that as hay fever is a significant trigger for asthma, asthma patients should ensure they carry their inhaler at all times and use it as prescribed.