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Is it a cold or hay fever?

GLENN ELLIS | 10/15/2017, 12:54 p.m.
It’s a question that puzzles lots of folks when those familiar symptoms hit: Is all that coughing and sneezing from ...
Cough and cold remedies. Stock photo

Strategies for Well-Being

It’s a question that puzzles lots of folks when those familiar symptoms hit: Is all that coughing and sneezing from a cold or hay fever?

With so many similar symptoms, from sneezing to a runny nose, it’s easy to understand why many people find it hard to distinguish between the common cold and hay fever especially at this time of year. Most people know that sneezing, runny noses, congestion and sinus pain are symptoms common to both the cold and hay fever. Some lesser known shared symptoms include tiredness, headaches and difficulty concentrating.

Coughs are another common symptom. While they are most commonly caused by viral infections and are usually the residue of the cold or flu, allergies such as hay fever can also lead to dry coughs. This is most noticeable when pollen counts are high.

With so many common symptoms, it’s easy to see why people can get confused. Being aware of the differences between a cold and hay fever is important in that it can help ensure you choose the correct treatment for your condition.

Firstly, it’s important to know that a cold is caused by a virus, whereas hay fever is predominately caused by an allergic response, typically to pollen.

There is one symptom in particular that can help differentiate between hay fever and a cold, and that’s…itchiness! If you have red, watery, itchy eyes, an itchy throat, even an itchy palate [top or back of the mouth] and sore ears then it’s probably hay fever as these symptoms are rarely experienced when you have a cold. The one exception would be an itchy nose, which can often appear before a sneeze in both hay fever and a cold.

Another good indicator of whether it is a cold or hay fever is the color of your nasal discharge. Although not the most pleasant of topics, it’s helpful to know the difference. If it’s a cold your nasal discharge is more likely to be yellowish/green, whereas if it’s hay fever it will most likely be clear.

With hay fever, you rarely get a sore throat – usually it is just an itchy dry feeling – whereas it is a frequent indicator of an impending cold. Therefore, if you have cold-like symptoms and a sore throat or have had one in the last few days, it is more likely to be a cold.

When you start feeling unwell, it’s easy to think it could be a cold, especially if you have never had hay fever before. One in five people suffer from hay fever and it’s important to know that hay fever can start at any age.

It’s a common misconception that hay fever starts in childhood, so if you never had it as a child you won’t get it as an adult. Unfortunately, experts are unclear as to what triggers it, but what they do know is that it can often be triggered later in life with a growing number of middle aged adults and elderly now being affected for the first time.