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Hay fever or coronavirus? How to tell the difference

PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 April 2020 | UPDATED: 20:27 23 April 2020

A Generic Photo of a woman suffering with hay fever. Picture: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

A Generic Photo of a woman suffering with hay fever. Picture: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

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As the UK enters the hay fever season there are concerns over people confusing its common symptoms with coronavirus.

Prof Paul Hunter of the UEA's Norwich medical school.  Photo: Bill SmithProf Paul Hunter of the UEA's Norwich medical school. Photo: Bill Smith

Now a Norfolk medical expert has outlined how we can all differentiate between the two.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said a small proportion of people who caught Covid-19 - 15pc - experienced upper respiratory problems which were commonplace with hay fever sufferers.

These included a runny nose, sore throat and sneezing. Common symptoms of coronavirus are a dry cough and high fever.

Prof Hunter said: “People with hay fever know what their usual symptoms are. The cough you get with Covid-19 tends to be more persistent than with hay fever.”

He added that the effects of hay fever would come on quickly, not last for as long as with coronavirus and improve through an antihistamine.

“That type of medication would not work on Covid-19,” said Prof Hunter.

Hay fever affects 25pc of the population and is triggered by pollen.

Dependent upon where people live in the UK, the hay fever season starts at different times and the levels are generally higher in the countryside compared to urban areas.

MORE: When will it be time to relax lockdown measures?

Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We would normally expect to see a number of patients at this time of year suffering with hay fever. Typically, patients suffering with hay fever will experience symptoms such as a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, sore and watering eyes – but also sometimes a cough. Some of these presenting problems, especially a cough, can also be symptoms of Covid-19.

“There are some important characteristics of hay fever that could help patients distinguish between it and Covid-19. 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. Patients who regularly suffer from hay fever will be familiar with the symptoms they usually get.

“Where a patient experiences a significant deviation from this, or have specific symptoms of Covid-19 - a new, persistent cough and high temperature - we urge them to follow government advice and self-isolate. If symptoms persist or worsen, patients should seek medical advice from the NHS 111 service, or their GP.”

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