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Is it hay fever or do I have a cold?

15 May 2023 • 2 min read


Got a sniffly nose and not sure whether it’s hay fever hitting or just the common cold? You’re in the right place. In this article, we delve into the differences between the two, as well as some top tips on managing the symptoms and the best products to take.

Introduction to hay fever

Starting with the basics, what is hay fever? Usually at its worst when the pollen count is at its highest (between March and September), hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen that causes a range of symptoms that are similar to a cold.1

Handpicked content: Have I Got Hay Fever? Signs And Symptoms

What is a cold?

On the other hand, a cold is classed as a mild viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways.2 The NHS lists the following ways you can catch a cold by:2

  • Touching an object or surface contaminated by infected droplets and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
  • Touching the skin of someone who has the infected droplets on their skin and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. 
  • Inhaling tiny droplets of fluid that contain the cold virus – these are launched into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

The difference between hay fever and a cold

So what’s the difference between a cold and hay fever? To help clarify these, check out our information on the types of symptoms you may experience, and how common they are for each issue...3

Common symptoms of hayfever:1

  • 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 
  • Headache 
  • Earache 
  • Feeling tired

Common symptoms of a cold:4

  • A blocked or runny nose
  • A sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Coughs
  • Sneezing
  • A raised temperature 
  • Pressure in your ears and face
  • Loss of taste and smell

Which products should you take?

Now you know the difference between hay fever and a cold, which products should you take for each one? For a cold, your pharmacist may provide you with painkillers (like ibuprofen or paracetamol) and decongestant sprays or tablets. Just make sure to follow the appropriate dosage and remember not to take cold and flu medicine if you’ve already taken painkillers, as they often contain them as well.4

For hay fever, your pharmacist may offer you antihistamine drops, tablets or nasal sprays to help with your symptoms.5 Or if you speak to a GP, they may prescribe a steroid nasal spray based on the severity of your symptoms. But if this doesn’t work, they may refer you for immunotherapy.1

How to prevent a cold

Want to try and avoid catching a cold? Some of the best things you can do include:4

  • Regularly washing your hands with warm water and soap
  • Avoid sharing household items like towels or cutlery with someone who has a cold
  • Not touching your eyes, nose and mouth where possible 
  • Staying fit and healthy

How to prevent hay fever

Unlike with a cold, you can’t actually prevent hay fever because it’s an allergy rather than a virus. But there are some things you can do to help reduce your symptoms, which we’ll dive into below…

Managing hay fever symptoms

Not sure how to manage your hay fever symptoms? Thankfully there are a few different techniques and products you can try. The NHS recommends the following:

  • Putting Vaseline around your nostrils to help trap pollen or use a barrier balm 
  • Wearing wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes 
  • Showering and changing your clothes after you have been outside to wash pollen off 
  • Staying indoors whenever possible 
  • Keeping windows and doors shut as much as possible 
  • Vacuuming regularly and dusting with a damp cloth 
  • Buying a pollen filter for the air vents in your car and a vacuum cleaner with a hepa filter 
  • Trying to stay at home and avoiding contact with other people if you have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities

Managing cold symptoms

When it comes to looking after yourself when you have a cold, there are three things you can try to help you feel better. This includes:4

  • Prioritising sleep and rest as much as possible 
  • Drinking plenty of water or diluted squash to help avoid dehydration 
  • Gargling salt water to help soothe your sore throat (although this isn’t suitable for children)

The final say

We hope you’re feeling a little clearer about the difference between hay fever and a cold! If you need some more advice on this, check out our guide to hay fever remedies and relief. Of course, if you have any questions about your symptoms, do speak to a GP for guidance based on your exact situation.




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