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Articles Health Cold or hay fever – how to tell the difference
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Cold or hay fever – how to tell the difference

If your throat starts to feel scratchy, or your nose begins to run you may think a cold is setting in, but these symptoms could also be the signs of an allergy, like hay fever. How are you to know for sure?

Pharmacist Selena Carr from Terry White Chemmart chats to us about how you can spot the difference between a cold and hay fever and what treatments are best.

What is hay fever?

Unlike the common cold, hay fever is not a contagious viral infection.

Selena says, “Hay fever is a reaction to an allergen in the air so it can be pollen, dust mites, animal dander and mould spores.”

When you’re exposed to an allergy trigger, known as an allergen, your immune system releases chemicals called histamines. This release of histamines is what causes allergy symptoms.

Why do they get mixed up?

“It is very easy to get this confused because a lot of the symptoms are quite similar. The things that differentiate a cold from an allergy are generally when it appears, how quickly it appears and how long it lasts,” Selena says.

Common symptoms of a cold

A cold generally happens in the cooler months and symptoms can appear 2-3 days after being exposed to the virus. The duration of a cold can be around 3-14 days. Usually you’ll experience:

  • Scratchy or sore throat
  • Runny nose (discharge can be yellow or green in colour)
  • Sneezing
  • Sensitive or watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Lethargy or sleep disturbance
  • Cough
  • Headaches
  • Mild fever
  • Body aches and pains
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Common symptoms of a hay fever

An allergy will last more than 2 weeks and in some instances up to a few months. It can also be triggered suddenly or over a period of time. You’re likely to experience:

  • Sore or irritated throat
  • Runny nose (clear discharge only)
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Lethargy or sleep disturbance
  • Headaches
  • Cough

The main difference between hay fever and a cold

The noticeable difference between hay fever and a cold is the nasal discharge. Hay fever sufferers will only experience clear discharge, whereas a cold usually produces green or yellow discharge.

Hay fever sufferers also don’t experience fevers or body aches and pains.

Is it possible to have a cold and hay fever at the same time?

Unfortunately, it’s possible to suffer from both a cold and hay fever at the same time.

Selena says if the symptoms of your cold have finished, but the hay fever symptoms like itchy, watery eyes and a dry cough are still lingering, it’s likely you were suffering from both.

Can hay fever be triggered later in life?

“Hay fever is very common for people aged 15 to 49 and generally more in females than males,” says Selena.

However, hay fever can pop up at any stage of life, even if you’ve never previously experienced it before.

Selena says, “sometimes when people are pregnant they can also experience hay fever, it starts in the second trimester and will usually resolve about 2 weeks after delivery.”

Is it likely to happen at a certain time of year?

“Hay fever can be an all year round allergy, but we do get a lot of people with allergies as the weather starts to warm up, there are a lot of plants coming into flower,” says Selena.

On days when it’s particularly windy people are much more likely to suffer from hay fever as well. Similarly, on days where it has changed from cold to hot quite quickly there will be a spike in cases.

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