Hay fever or cold – how to tell the difference between the symptoms

Sneezing, sniffles and an itchy throat are symptoms of both hay fever and a cold – here’s how to tell the difference.

It’s the same old story – as spring starts the slow approach, the shivers of winter finally go away - only to be replaced by the seasonal sniffles caused by that old enemy, hay fever.

A whopping 16 million Brits suffer from hay fever, and just because you’ve never had those itchy eyes and sniffles, because allergy to pollen can be cyclical it could suddenly hit you as an adult even if you never suffered as a child.

On the other hand, you could also stop suffering from hay fever one year having experienced it all your life – we can but hope.

If you don’t expect to be allergic to pollen, it can be very difficult to distinguish between hay fever and the common cold.

Here are the tell-tale signs and remedies for both.


While hay fever and cold symptoms often overlap, there is one manifestation of pollen allergies that is never caused by colds - itchiness.

If your eyes, ears, mouth or throat are itchy, it’s probably hay fever. The only exception to this rule is the itchy nose that can precede a sneeze in both hay fever and a cold.

Sore throat

Hay fever rarely comes with a sore throat - a frequent precursor to the common cold. If you have cold-like symptoms and a sore throat or have had one in the last few days, your condition is more likely to be a cold.


If you’re allergic to something in the air, antihistamines will reduce or eradicate your symptoms, so pop a pill and see if it makes any difference.

Hay fever is associated with an oversensitive immune system, so taking a daily multi-strain probiotic throughout the year and especially in the spring could help support a healthy immune response.

Eating locally sourced honey from bees that have pollinated local plants can also help to build up a tolerance to local plant antigens.

Time and place

Grass pollen is in the air in May and mid-July, if your symptoms are present during this time then the chances are that it could well be hay fever.

If you’re in a city – where the pollen sticks to the more polluted air – the chances of it being hay fever are even higher and if your symptoms come on while you’re sitting on grass, you can bet your pack of tissues it’s hay fever and not a cold.

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