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04th May 2023

High pollen count on the way as doctors highlight difference between hay fever and a cold

Sophie Collins

Woman with tissue sneezing

This is down to the fact that hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, causes cold-like symptoms

Post-Covid life has made people more aware of their health, and when a sniffle, cough or blocked nose begins to develop, we immediately question if it is the highly contagious virus.

While restrictions are virtually nonexistent, the HSE continues to advise people to isolate if they develop the known symptoms.

With hay fever season well underway, it can be difficult to decipher between allergies and Covid, or even the common cold.

This is down to the fact that hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, causes cold-like symptoms.

These may include a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure – all of which can be associated with newer strains of coronavirus.

But unlike a cold or Covid, hay fever isn’t caused by a virus. It is caused by an allergic response to a harmless outdoor or indoor substance the body identifies as harmful (allergen).

Young boy sneezing into tissue

Hay fever symptoms can include:

  • Runny nose and nasal stuffiness (congestion)
  • Watery, itchy, red eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Mucus that runs down the back of your throat (postnasal drip)
  • Swollen, bruised-appearing skin under the eyes (allergic shiners)
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue), often due to poor sleep

According to the Mayo Clinic, it can be tricky to decide whether you’re suffering from hay fever, a common cold, or Covid – but here are some quick tips to help.

If you have hay fever, you’ll experience a runny nose with thin, watery discharge, but no fever. It will come on immediately after exposure to allergens, and will last as long as you’re exposed to allergens.

If you have a cold, Covid, or a different respiratory infection, you’ll likely have a runny nose with watery or thick yellow discharge, body aches and a low-grade fever.

Your symptoms will develop between one to three days after exposure to a cold virus, and will last for between three and seven days.

Most people won’t have the luxury to wait and see if their symptoms subside, so it is recommended that you monitor your temperature over the space of a day.

If your temperature remains constant, and normal (between 36.4°C to 37.2°C), then you likely are having a reaction to pollen in the air.

If your temperature rises above 37.8°C, you should assume it’s a cold, monitor your symptoms and take a Covid test to rule out being contagious.

Met Eireann pollen count

Met Eireann pollen count



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