It’s that time of the year again – even though the days are getting longer and the sun is daring to show its face, you’ve somehow got the sniffles, a blocked or runny nose, possibly even a cough.
Given we’re still living through a pandemic, we’d forgive you for not knowing whether these are symptoms of Covid and its ever-evolving variants, a disappointingly unseasonal cold, or the rather more seasonal hay fever.
Since mandatory PCR testing, which provided more accurate results, was slashed earlier in the year, many people won’t have early proof of their illness is in fact coronavirus. Lateral flow tests, which can be less accurate than PCRs, might be showing a negative test. These tests are also no longer free from the end of the month.
So it could be that you have caught Covid, or just the common cold, but as the weather gets warmer and the pollen starts to travel, it could also be hay fever.
Read on for their respective symptoms and how to tell them apart. But in brief: focus on the length of time it takes for your symptoms to develop and also on your body’s responses to treatment to help determine if it’s Covid or not.
What are the symptoms of Covid?
Traditional symptoms of Covid have been:
a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different from normal.
However, Omicron (and Delta) symptoms, as well as symptoms of Covid after having had both your vaccinations can include:
- body aches
- mild cough
- nasal congestion.
What are the symptoms of a cold?
Cold symptoms come on gradually and, according to the NHS, can include:
- a blocked or runny nose
- a sore throat
- muscle aches
- a raised temperature
- pressure in your ears and face
- Loss of taste and smell
What are hay fever symptoms?
Typical symptoms of hay fever include:
- sneezing and coughing
- a runny or blocked nose
- itchy, red or watery eyes
- itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
- loss of smell
- pain around your temples and forehead
- feeling tired
So how can you tell the difference between Covid, a cold, and hay fever?
You’ll notice a fair amount of overlap between the symptoms in the lists above. If you have any reason to believe you have contracted Covid, try to test yourself with a lateral flow test, currently still available from the government website.
But it’s also worth paying attention to the pattern of your symptoms. Hay fever symptoms tend to come and go over several days. You can usually relieve them to some extent with antihistamine medication.
Covid symptoms are likely to be more persistent, and get worse before they get better. You’re also more likely to feel lethargic and have a sore throat with Covid, unlike hay fever.
Isolation after Covid infection is no longer mandatory. But whatever the root cause of your sniffles, it’s probably best to stay inside and avoid spreading infection, or in the case of hay fever, subject yourself to more pollen exposure.
Experts are still learning about Covid-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but guidance could change as scientists discover more about the virus. To keep up to date with health advice and cases in your area, visit gov.uk/coronavirus and nhs.uk.