As we head into Spring and with the hope of warmer weather in the not too distant future, some people will already be thinking of the hay fever season that coincides with the inevitable increase in the pollen count. Consequently those with hay fever may already be feeling anxious about the unwelcome effects. 

Hay fever can cause frustrating and debilitating symptoms for lots of people in the UK. Symptoms can vary greatly in severity but often include sneezing, itchy eyes and nose, running eyes and nose, a blocked nose and loss of smell. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed our routines and usual way of life. Gyms and other indoor sporting activities have been unavailable. So, where possible, people have been taking up the opportunity to exercise outdoors. More people have been heading out on walks and no doubt will continue to as lockdown restrictions ease, and the number of people we can meet with outside increases. But whilst walking is a great form of exercise, if you have hay fever there might be some factors you need to consider before the pollen season sets in. 

Hay fever and coronavirus: Advice from our doctor

‘You’re less likely to catch or spread coronavirus outdoors because it’s an open environment, and virus particles can’t hang in the air as easily. But it’s not impossible. And a high pollen count increases the risk. Researchers at MIT suggested that COVID-19 particles can travel as far as 8 metres when carried by a sneeze.

With lockdown easing and more of us meeting friends and family outdoors over the coming weeks, it will still be important to take precautions to stop the spread.’

  • Always cover your mouth if you sneeze or catch it in a tissue.
  • Carry hand sanitiser with you at all times when outside the house.
  • Check the pollen forecast before you make plans. If the pollen count is high and you get hay fever, it may be worth avoiding grassy areas or arranging a meet up on a different day.
  • Remember to social distance and maintain 2 metres between you and others.
  • Get the vaccine when you are offered it. As well as protecting you, there’s early evidence to suggest that it also limits the risk you’ll spread the virus to someone else.

‘Many of us will be eager and to meet loved ones after such a long time apart, and with some restrictions still in place this will mean meeting up and going for a walk together outdoors. But as the Chief Medical Officer has reiterated, despite impressive progress being made with the distribution of the vaccine, we aren’t out of the woods with coronavirus just yet. 

And with high pollen counts usually setting in around this time of year, hay fever (particularly sneezing) could turn out to be an aggravating factor that causes some amount of spread in the coming weeks. So as ever, social distancing and good sneeze hygiene is key - and if the pollen forecast is high on a particular day and could put your sinuses through the wringer, maybe think about rearranging your walk for a different day.’

How should I manage hay fever symptoms during the coronavirus outbreak?

If you have hay fever, it is always a good idea to be prepared for the onset of your symptoms. If you usually take medication to combat your symptoms make sure you have the items you need. Pharmacists can advise on the various treatment options available ranging from antihistamine tablets, nasal sprays or drops. Paracetamol can be used to treat headache symptoms. 

Dr Daniel Atkinson, Clinical Lead at Treated.com, has provided his advice for those battling with hay fever symptoms during the coronavirus pandemic. ‘When you go outside you should wear wraparound sunglasses to protect your eyes and you can also use a small amount of Vaseline around your nose to prevent pollen from being inhaled. When you return home, have a shower and change your clothes.’ 

‘Full compliance with the UK government advice to help stop the spread of coronavirus is still vitally important. Therefore whether you have hay fever or not you should still be following the social distancing rules, washing your hands frequently, wearing a face covering in certain settings and getting a Coronavirus test should you develop any symptoms.’

How easy is it to catch Coronavirus outdoors? 

Research has shown that the likelihood of catching Coronavirus is greatly reduced when outdoors. However, that does not mean that you cannot catch it when you are outside and you should still be aiming to keep your distance from those outside of your bubble. 

As we follow the government’s roadmap out of the pandemic, over the coming months more people are likely to be meeting up in outdoor settings. It is important to remember that whilst fresh air and wind can help to disperse virus droplets, they can still be propelled into your system especially from a cough or sneeze. 

If you struggle with hay fever symptoms when outside and outdoor meetups are the only option, then you may wish to trial wearing a face mask with wraparound sunglasses to see if this helps to curb your symptoms. 

Dr Atkinson says. ‘Facemasks have become very important during the coronavirus pandemic, and therefore more people have access to them. For those with hay fever, wearing a facemask when outside could help to block some pollen particles from entering your system so it may be worthwhile giving it a try whilst indoor social interactions are not allowed.’ 

How to prevent spreading coronavirus if you are sneezing frequently

Sneezing is a very common symptom linked to hay fever and unfortunately it is one that could potentially increase the spread of the coronavirus disease. Sneezes and coughs can spread mucus and saliva droplets that could contain the virus, if you have been infected. 

A research paper from last year suggested that during a single sneeze these droplets could be projected as far as eight metres from the infected person, dependent on physical and environmental factors. 

Following strict hygiene measures can help stop the infection spreading to other people:

  • If you do sneeze or cough you should try to catch it in a tissue and throw the tissue in an enclosed bin immediately. If you do not have a tissue you should use the crook of your arm and not your hands. 
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible. 
  • Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doors and taps. 

Are hay fever and coronavirus symptoms similar?

There can be some similarities between hay fever symptoms and those associated with coronavirus such as a dry cough, headache and fatigue. However, hay fever does not usually cause a fever or shortness of breath. 

If you think you have coronavirus do not attend your GP surgery, hospital or pharmacy. Instead refer to online NHS services. Only call 111 if you are unable to access the online services, you are instructed to call or your symptoms worsen.