As the Australian climate begins to heat up, we see a spike in cases of hay fever. It is important for Australians to make themselves aware of how to identify and manage symptoms of hay fever. Hay fever is the most common chronic respiratory condition in Australia impacting 3.1 million Australians every year, and with the somewhat recent emergence of COVID-19, it is important for individuals to be able to identify the differences between the two conditions as COVID-19 and hay fever have many overlapping symptoms. An interview conducted with Dr Nirvana Luckraj provided great insight into the issue.
Allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as hay fever can be triggered by seasonal allergens like pollen, and grass or year-round triggers like dust, animal fur, and air pollutants. It causes cold-like symptoms but unlike the usual cold, it is not caused by a virus but rather an allergic response to substances the body identifies as harmful.
While hay fever itself is relatively harmless, its symptoms can cause discomfort for patients such as itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose and congested sinuses, which in turn has a negative impact on an individual’s quality of life. In severe cases, hay fever can lead to asthma, chronic sinusitis, decreased sleep and ear infections.
Hay fever is generally able to be managed with over-the-counter medications such as nasal sprays, inhalers and antihistamines. Dr Luckraj recommends keeping a diary to record when medication is given and when symptoms occur. This allows doctors to get a better overview of what medication and treatments would be most effective to pursue, should your symptoms continue or worsen.
If your hay fever symptoms seem to be progressing and persistent you should seek assistance from a doctor. The doctor will help you develop an individual action plan. This includes an allergy test so you are able to identify what triggers the hay fever, the plan will also include tips on how and when to take medication and what to do if symptoms worsen.
Once able to identify the trigger of hay fever, individuals can work on reducing their exposure. Depending on the trigger individuals may opt to stay indoors more often or until after midday, wear glasses when outdoors, keep windows closed, and shower as soon as they arrive home. These simple tasks could minimise exposure to the trigger and reduce symptoms.
While hay fever is not a common cause of hospitalisation, it may be necessary when individuals have ongoing complications such as serve asthma. In 2008-2009, hay fever represented roughly 0.02% of all hospitalisation causes.
Currently, Australia is moving into the hay fever season and coincidently COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising again, from 978 new cases on the 1st of October to 82,229 new cases on the 1st of December. Doctors and individuals are faced with the challenging task of differentiating the two as both conditions have similar symptoms. It may be easy for an individual to misinterpret COVID-19 symptoms as their usual hay fever symptoms. Dr Luckraj explained that while there may be many overlapping symptoms, there are some key distinctive factors associated with each condition. The most common symptoms of hay fever are sneezing and itchy eyes while the most common COVID-19 symptoms are coughing and a fever.
If an individual has a cough and fever as well as allergy symptoms it could be an indicator of a respiratory infection. Although given the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, it is possible to have both COVID-19 and hay fever simultaneously. If you are unsure, it’s a good idea to get tested for COVID-19 regardless and seek help from a doctor.
To conclude, as temperatures begin to rise and Australia heads into hay fever season individuals should make themselves aware of how to manage and treat symptoms. Being able to identify symptoms early can prevent severe symptoms such as asthma. Although hay fever is not the only condition to look out for this summer, cases of COVID-19 are rising again. Hay fever and COVID-19 have overlapping symptoms, for this reason, the population should be educated on the main indicators of each condition and how to act accordingly.