We use cookies to allow us and selected partners to improve your experience and our advertising. By continuing to browse you consent to our use of cookies. You can understand more and change your cookies preferences here.


When you click on a retailer link on our site, we may earn affiliate commission to help fund our not-for-profit mission.Find out more.

21 Apr 2020

5 tips for tackling hay fever - and how to tell if it's actually coronavirus

Why you need to pay extra attention to hay fever symptoms this year, where to find cheap hay fever tablets and how to tell the difference between hay fever and COVID-19

We're heading into peak hay fever season: high pollen counts have been recorded across the UK in recent weeks, and experts have warned that it's more important than ever to keep your hay fever symptoms under control.

That's because some symptoms overlap with coronavirus, and if you're sneezing and coughing because of hay fever, you're more likely to spread the virus if you do have it - particularly if you're asymptomatic and don't realise.

Similarly, hay fever symptoms, such as itchy eyes and a runny nose, make it more likely you'll need to touch your face when out and about - something that is best avoided to help protect against getting ill.

Here we explain how to tell the difference between hay fever and coronavirus, how to manage your allergies this summer, and how to save money on hay fever tablets.

Which? coronavirus advice - get the latest updates from our health, retail and consumer rights experts

1. Know the difference between hay fever and coronavirus

The Royal College of General Practitioners has warned that allergy sufferers might confuse their hay fever symptoms with coronavirus.

Hay fever can bring on a cough and suppress your sense of smell, both of which can be symptoms of COVID-19 (a cough is more common, although some people have reported anosmia - loss of smell - as well). But there are also key differences:

  • Hay fever is usually associated with itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose and sneezing, which aren't typical symptoms of coronavirus.
  • The main symptoms of coronavirus also include a fever and muscle aches and pains, which aren't typical of hay fever.
  • Hay fever symptoms tend to be similar every year, so if you're feeling like you usually do with hay fever, it's likely that's what you've got.

What to do

To mitigate the risk of hay fever symptoms affecting the spread of coronavirus, Allergy UK has recommended that anyone who tends to suffer from seasonal hay fever should start treating it before symptoms develop significantly, and take treatment regularly to keep symptoms under control.

Allergy UK has also reiterated that most anti-allergy medications don't affect immunity. Antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays are considered safe, so you should continue to use these if they work for you.

If you've been prescribed hay fever medication, you should continue to take it. Allergy UK says that some prescribed oral steroids may affect immunity, but that doesn't mean you should stop taking them. If you have concerns about your medication, you should discuss them with your doctor.

See Allergy UK's coronavirus advice for allergy sufferers.

How to protect yourself and others from coronavirus - Which? health experts sort fact from fiction

2. Get the right hay fever treatment for you

The best treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms.

A good first port of call is a once-daily oral tablet with the active ingredient cetirizine or loratadine. These shouldn't cause too much drowsiness.

If oral tablets on their own don't work, you can try tackling the symptoms that bother you most directly. For example, a steroid nasal spray such as Pirinase, Beconase, or a barrier spray such as Boots Allergy Barrier Nasal Spray, which you can get from the pharmacy or on prescription.

Decongestant nasal sprays, such as Sudafed, are different and should only be taken for short-term use, as they can have side effects and worsen symptoms in the long run.

You might want to try eye drops if your eyes are still suffering despite taking antihistamine tablets and using a nasal spray.

It can take a while to find what treatment works best for you. Treatments should be taken regularly to be most effective.

See your GP if you have daily symptoms that resist treatment. Other options might include a prescribed ctablet or nasal spray, a combination of the two, or a referral for immunotherapy (for severe cases).

3. Don't pay over the odds for hay fever medicine

Branded hay fever medication can cost 10 times as much as generic versions. If you're taking hay fever medication regularly during the spring or summer, this difference can really add up.

For cetirizine, a common antihistamine, the cheapest generic tablet (Bell's Allergy Relief tablets from B&M) will cost you just £1 for one month of daily treatment, compared with £9.99 for the priciest branded option at Boots (Piriteze).

It's the same with loratadine, the other common antihistamine. Taking Clarityn's loratadine tablets once a day for a month will cost £10.49 from Boots, compared with £1 for Bell's loratadine Hayfever and Allergy Relief (from B&M).

Supermarkets offer value and convenience

If you're not near a discount store, supermarket own-brand tablets are the next cheapest option.

  • Loratadine - a 14-tablet pack of Tesco loratadine is 11p a tablet, three times cheaper than a 14-tablet pack of Clarityn (39p a tablet). It's also less than half the price of Boots own-brand loratadine tablets (28p a tablet).
  • Cetirizine - Sainsbury's version costs 14p a tablet, compared with 39p a tablet for Piriteze. The Boots own-brand version is 28p a tablet (all are 14-tablet packs).

How to get cheaper cold and flu medicines - we reveal where and what to buy

4. Limit exposure to allergens

Medication can help control your symptoms, but it's also important to limit your exposure to hay fever triggers.

It can help to find out what type of pollen or other allergen triggers you, and check the Met Office for daily levels.

For those with pollen allergies, it helps to do the following when the pollen count is particularly high:

  • Keep windows shut
  • Stay indoors
  • Avoid drying clothes outdoors
  • Avoid mowing the lawn or raking leaves in the garden.

5. Optimise your home environment

Spending more time indoors is already part of the new routine, but triggers can also be present in the home - house dust mites, pet hair and indoor moulds can prompt symptoms.

Allergy UK recommends that people with house dust mite allergies focus on eliminating them from bedrooms and living areas.

Tips include using allergen-proof covers on bedding, washing bedding that isn't encased in covers every week at a high temperature, and where possible, removing carpet from bedrooms.

Keep your home allergen-free

  • Vacuum flooring and upholstery regularly. Make sure you have a vacuum cleaner with good allergen retention - so when it sucks up dust mites and other irritants it locks them in. We've found that some vacs, even ones with Hepafilters, can leak allergens back into the room. Check our vacuum cleaner reviews for the ones that score five stars for allergen retention.
  • If you're having to avoid drying washing outside because of pollen, make sure you use an energy-efficient tumble dryer.
  • Air purifiers can help to trap pollen particles, and some Which? members told us in our March 2020 hay fever survey that having one at home has helped ease their symptoms. In our tests, we found that some models were particularly good at trapping pollen particles - check our air purifier reviews for the best options.