Hay Fever vs. the Common Cold: How to Tell the Difference

Health Alliance Plan
May 11, 2018 - 11:33 am
Hay Fever Sneezing

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What's making you sneeze? Is it a cold or hay fever? It's important to know the differences to ensure you find the right treatment to target your ailment.


Fever and body aches

Fevers rarely appear with colds or hay fever, but if your body temperature rises, you more likely have a cold. Body aches and high fevers tend to appear more often with more serious diseases such as the flu, but occasionally, minor aches may manifest in those with colds. Hay fever will never produce body aches or a fever.


Coughing and chest discomfort

Chest discomfort may occur in some people with colds, but unless you have asthma, it rarely appears with hay fever. Coughing can accompany some colds, but, like chest discomfort, it does not often occur in those with allergies.


Nasal symptoms

Both colds and hay fever are marked with sneezing, runny nose and congestion. Decongestants can open your nasal and sinus passages for easier breathing, and antihistamines can slow a runny nose and sneezing. Use either to treat colds or allergies, but don't use nasal decongestant sprays long-term, as extended use of these may result in rebound congestion.


Watery, itchy eyes

Colds never produce watery eyes. This symptom only occurs with hay fever, which are the results from the body's overreaction to the pollen in the air. Hay fever may also produce itchy eyes, nose, mouth and throat.


Throat problems

Colds and allergies may both produce sore throats, but with a cold, the sore throat typically comes on before nasal symptoms develop. Allergies don't always produce sore throats. However, if your throat is itchy, it's caused by hay fever since colds never have itchiness as a symptom.



According to PubMed Health, it takes about a week for most cold symptoms to subside. Unlike a cold, hay fever symptoms last as long as the allergen is present. In some instances, this could be weeks during the spring or fall when tree or grass pollen proliferate.


Cold treatment

Viruses cause colds, and while the symptoms may make you feel miserable, the best remedy is time. Antibiotics from your doctor won't help you recover faster because those medicines only fight bacteria, not viruses. Compared to the flu and other respiratory diseases of the season, colds are mild and harmless. To treat symptoms, take antihistamines for sneezing and a runny nose, and decongestants to clear up nasal congestion.


Hay fever treatment

Hay fever is often not caused by hay, but by seasonal pollen allergies. The best treatment is to prevent exposure to the allergens. Shower each evening before going to bed to remove pollen from your hair and body, and keep windows and doors closed when pollen counts are high. You have several medications available, both over the counter and from a doctor to treat symptoms. The same antihistamines and decongestants that work for colds will also alleviate hay fever symptoms. For itchy eyes, try allergy eye-drops. Nasal steroid sprays can reduce inflammation of the nasal passages but require at least two weeks to start working. Cromolyn sodium also works to reduce nasal swelling. Like steroid sprays, it takes a couple of weeks to work.

If all else fails, visit your doctor for immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots. You get exposed to a small amount of the hay fever trigger over a long time, building a tolerance to it. Though it takes time, it can reduce the severity of your symptoms.


Hay fever and colds may cause misery, but this does not have to last forever. When you know which problem is causing your symptoms, you can treat it correctly and get back to enjoying life.



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