Is a Sore Throat a Symptom of Coronavirus? How to Tell the Difference Between Hay Fever and COVID-19

For millions of people, spring ushers in the irritating and sometimes debilitating symptoms of hay fever, from a stuffy nose to a scratchy throat. And this year, many sufferers will be trying to manage their condition while monitoring themselves for COVID-19 symptoms.

So, how can a person tell if their cough or sore throat is just a spot of hay fever or symptoms of the coronavirus?

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the family doctors' body the Royal College of GPs, told Newsweek that its members would normally expect to see patients at this time of year suffering with symptoms of pollen allergy known as allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, up to 60 million Americans are thought to get hay fever.

Symptoms of hay fever include itchy nose, eyes, ears, palate and throat, sneezing, a runny or blocked nasal passage, watery eyes—as well as those which overlap with COVID-19, such as a cough and a sore throat.

However, Stephen Durham, professor of allergy and respiratory medicine at Imperial College London, told Newsweek such symptoms "are quite distinct from COVID-19 symptoms" and "in stark contrast to the dry cough, fever, fatigue, breathlessness and loss of smell and taste" which are "the hallmarks of COVID19." And despite the name, "there is no fever," stressed Durham.

He said these symptoms "should therefore not be confused, but they may co-exist."

It is also useful to remember that allergy symptoms tend to be milder and fluctuate depending on the time of day, as pollen levels are often higher in the afternoon and evening, Marshall said.

"Similarly, wet weather may lead to patients experiencing milder symptoms," he added.

"Patients who regularly suffer from hay fever will be familiar with the symptoms they usually get and the severity of them," said Marshall.

If a person experiences "a significant deviation from this" or has COVID-19 symptoms such as a new, persistent cough, and a high temperature, Marshall urged them to self-isolate, adding they should seek medical advice from their family doctor if their symptoms worsen.

Durham said: "I suggest don't self isolate for hay fever symptoms alone, nor for sore throat alone, in absence of fever, cough, loss of smell, fatigue or breathlessness."

The U.S Centers for Disease Control And Prevention states those who believe they have COVID-19 should contact their health care provider and recover at home if possible. Those who have emergency warning signs—such as trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, feeling newly confused or having an "inability to arouse," and bluish lips or face—should seek immediate medical attention by calling 911.

As those with hay fever and COVID-19, whether knowingly or not, could spread the coroanvirus to others if sneezing is one of their symptoms, "it is essential that hayfever sufferers are even more meticulous about taking their intranasal steroids, antihistamines and anti-allergic eye drops to suppress their symptoms,' Durham said.

Not keeping symptoms like sneezing in check would "guarantee widespread dissemination of the virus as an aerosol" if a person also has COVID-19, he warned.

Durham went on to stress there is no evidence that hay fever puts people at greater risk of COVID-19, or that treatments like intranasal steroids or antihistamines suppress the immune system to the extent that they risk developing severe COVID-19 disease.

According to Johns Hopkins University, almost 2.5 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the outbreak started late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan. A total of 171 people have died, and almost 659,000 have recovered. As shown in the Statista chart below, the U.S. has the highest number of known cases.

Countries with the most COVID-19 cases
Countries with the most COVID-19 cases. Statista

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.