Have you heard of the term “hay fever”? It’s not the same as the fever you experience when you catch a cold. In fact, its causes and medicinal treatment are completely different from those of the common cold. 

There are many misconceptions about hay fever and what it really is. On the surface, hay fever seems to share many similarities with the common flu, so it’s essential to know how to tell them apart. 

In this article, we’ll be discussing what hay fever is, its symptoms, causes and what you should do if you’ve contracted this illness. 

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is also known as allergic rhinitis. It is triggered by allergens (such as pollen and mold) and irritants (such as cigarette smoke and perfume).

Typically, you can get hay fever when you come in contact with allergens or irritants through your nose, eyes, mouth and throat. 

As such, it’s unsurprising that hay fever is particularly prevalent in temperate climates where there are high seasonal levels of pollen. 

Hay fever can look a lot like the common cold on the surface. It has cold-like symptoms such as runny nose and nasal congestion. 

Unlike the common cold, hay fever is not transmitted by viruses. Instead, it’s an allergic reaction to the allergens that cause irritation and inflammation of the nose. 

Singapore, for instance, sees a pretty high percentage of hay fever sufferers, affecting 24% of the population. Although it affects people of all ages, it’s most prevalent among children and teens aged between four and 17 years old in Singapore. 

That being said, it’s possible for adults to experience hay fever too. 

What are the symptoms of hay fever? 

There are several symptoms you should watch out for that are indicative of hay fever. Some of these common symptoms are flu-like, such as:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Watery, itchy, red eyes
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat 

Some other symptoms you might experience include postnasal drip, sinus pressure and pain, and itchy skin. 

If you happen to have asthma, you might also experience a tight feeling in your chest, shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. 

Since hay fever and the common cold seem so similar on the surface, how do we tell them apart? Knowing the difference between hay fever and the common cold is vital as they require different kinds of treatment. 

Hay fever can last for weeks or even months. When your body is suffering due to allergies, you should seek the appropriate treatment as soon as possible. The last thing you want is to worsen your condition because you mistake it for the common cold, thinking you can just “sleep it off”. 

How do you tell the difference between hay fever and the common cold?

The main difference between a common cold and hay fever is the body aches you might experience. The time it takes for symptoms to appear also differ. 

Hay fever

With hay fever, you’ll experience symptoms immediately after exposure to allergens. Runny nose with thin and watery discharge is the most common reaction your body will show. 

Although called “hay fever”, you will not develop any fever from it. Neither will you experience any body aches. 

Hay fever can go on for several weeks and even months. The longer you are exposed to allergens, the more the symptoms will persist. It won’t just go away with sufficient rest, unlike the flu.

Common cold

Common cold, on the other hand, is quite different from hay fever. With the common cold, you’ll experience symptoms one to three days after being exposed to the cold virus. 

Unlike hay fever, your body will not show symptoms immediately. Furthermore, symptoms also differ. The differences include runny nose with watery or thick yellow discharge, body aches and a low grade fever (37.5°C to 38.3°C). 

Typically, common colds can last between three to seven days. They don’t last for weeks or months, unlike hay fever. 

It can be difficult to know if your body is showing symptoms due to allergies or the flu virus, especially if you don’t notice any allergens in your surroundings.

 Infographic on the difference between hay fever and the common cold
One main difference between hay fever and the common cold is the nasal discharge.

However, the most obvious difference between hay fever and the common flu is the nasal discharge. Those who have hay fever will have clear discharge, and not yellow or green discharge from their nose. 

Additionally, you won’t experience fevers or body aches if you have hay fever. By examining these signs, you should be able to tell whether you’re suffering from the common cold or hay fever. 

That being said, it’s possible that you have hay fever and the common cold at the same time. If symptoms of your cold have passed but you still experience watery eyes and dry cough, there might be a chance you’ve caught both hay fever and the common flu. 

In cases like these, it’s crucial to find out what allergens your body is reacting to, so that you can better relieve your hay fever symptoms. 

What causes hay fever allergies?

Hay fever is commonly triggered by the outdoor and indoor allergens that can be seasonally or year-long and irritants. 

Common allergens and irritants

Hay fever symptoms usually start right after you are exposed to the allergens.

Some common outdoor allergens are: 

  • Pollens from trees, grass, weeds
  • Fungi
  • Mould spores

Some common indoor allergens are:

  • Pet hair or dander
  • Dust mites
  • Fungi
  • Mold

Some common irritants are:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Perfume
  • Haze
  • Diesel exhaust

In Singapore, the most common trigger for hay fever is the house dust mites. Another common trigger is exposure to cigarette smoke. 

Since these particles are small and perhaps even invisible to the naked eye, you might not know when you’ve come in contact with them. 

But why does breathing in allergens or irritants cause your body to react with symptoms like a runny nose? 

This is because these allergens or irritants trigger your immune system. Your body wrongly identifies them as harmful particles and in response, releases antibodies to defend itself. 

This causes blood vessels to widen, and your body starts to produce inflammatory chemicals. For instance, the mucous lining in the nose gets inflamed, which leads to symptoms like sneezing and a runny nose. 

Genetic factors

Genetics play a big role in a person’s chances of developing hay fever. If your family member has a history of allergy-related diseases, the chances of you developing hay fever also increases. 

As such, children who have parents with allergies will have a higher chance of developing hay fever. 

While hay fever is more common among children, it can pop up for the first time in adults even if they’ve never previously experienced it before.

In fact, researchers have found that a total of 141 genes in our genetic makeup are associated with increasing the risk of developing asthma, hay fever and eczema. Additionally, many patients diagnosed with one of these three diseases may also develop the other two at a later point in life. 

When should you see a doctor for hay fever? 

In most cases, hay fever can be treated by reducing the chances of coming in contact with the identified allergens or irritants. 

However, in more serious cases, you’ll need to see a doctor.

Symptoms last longer than a week

If your symptoms last longer than a week and you can’t find the source of allergens/irritants, it’s wise to visit a doctor to get a proper medical treatment. 

Seeking professional advice can help you cope with future exposure to allergens/irritants as well as getting the right medications needed. 

Need to see a doctor for your hay fever symptoms? Get started with MyDoc. 

Allergy medications no longer work

If your allergy medications are not helping, you should see a doctor too. 

There could be a few reasons why your medication isn’t working. 

For one, your body may have built up resistance to your allergy medication. When this happens, your medication stops working and your symptoms continue to show. 

Other reasons which might affect the effectiveness of your medication could be a change in climate, your location and environment. 

Whichever the case, it’s important to visit the doctor to ensure that you get the right medication that can help ease your symptoms. 

In need of a new medication to relieve your hay fever symptoms? Consult a doctor and get your prescription on MyDoc. 

Symptoms worsened by other health conditions

Do you also suffer from eczema and asthma? If you do, you’ll definitely need to visit a doctor when you experience hay fever. 

Hay fever can cause sinus and tightness in the chest if you have asthma, leading to difficulty in breathing. 

If you have eczema, symptoms like itchiness in the skin could get worse.  

In cases like these, visiting the doctor will greatly benefit you, so you can get the right medication to treat both conditions. Ignoring these symptoms could worsen your overall health.

Severe symptoms 

In serious cases, hay fever may cause you to have swollen and/or bloodshot eyes, as well as rash and poor skin conditions. 

See the doctor immediately if you’re experiencing these severe symptoms and get the proper medical treatment. You don’t want these allergic reactions to lead to other health problems.

With MyDoc telehealth, you can skip the queue at the GP and see a doctor within 20 minutes. 

How to treat your hay fever symptoms

There are many ways to relieve your hay fever symptoms. Nonetheless it’s essential to find a solution that’s suitable for you and your condition. 

In this section, we’ll discuss some common treatments and how you can treat hay fever symptoms effectively. 

Do a skin prick test

You may want to consider taking an allergy test first to identify the allergens that trigger the hay fever. 

In the test, a small amount of allergen is applied on your skin, which is then observed for any reaction. 

Identifying these allergens can help you reduce further exposure, relieving your symptoms. 

Take over-the-counter antihistamines

Antihistamines are most commonly used to relieve itchiness, redness and swelling in skin conditions. Hence, they can help to relieve symptoms associated with the common flu and hay fever. 

There are many kinds of antihistamines in the market. Do take note that while some are non-drowsy, there are a few types that can cause drowsiness. 

Here’s a table listing both drowsy and non-drowsy antihistamines you can find out there:

Names of antihistamines– Buclizine
– Chlorpheniramine
– Hydroxyzine
– Promethazine
– Bilastine
– Cetirizine (may cause mild sedation)
– Desloratadine
– Fexofenadine
– Levocetirizine
– Loratadine
– Rupatadine
Source: Healthhub

Antihistamines are available in both tablets and liquids. When you’re taking these drugs, do follow the dosage instructions on the label. 

You should not take a higher dosage than recommended to prevent side effects like drowsiness and blurred vision. 

Use a neti pot

A girl using a neti pot to relieve nasal congestion caused by hay fever
Using a neti pot can help to flush the mucus out of your nose.

One of the symptoms of hay fever is sinus and nasal congestion, which can be extremely uncomfortable and can affect your daily life. To help you ease such symptoms, you can use a neti pot to help you clear your nasal congestion. 

A neti pot is a container that’s designed to help you flush mucus out of your nasal. It’s a common method of treating hay fever and cold symptoms. 

People usually use saline solution with the neti pot to clear their nasal cavity. However, you can also get a prescribed solution from the doctor.

In general, you should not use the neti pot for more than one to three weeks at a time. Overusing it can damage your sinus lining and worsen your hay fever symptoms. 

Use a saline spray

Besides the neti pot, you can also use a saline spray to help you clear your congested nasal cavity. You can easily buy saline sprays at the pharmacy without a prescription. 

In many ways, a saline spray is quite similar to a neti pot. The only difference is that saline sprays are more portable than neti pots and you can easily carry them around with you in your bag.

Nasal steroids

Nasal steroids are another option you can consider to help with nasal congestion and watery eyes. They can be sprayed into your nose to reduce swelling, mucus and congestion. This allows nasal passages to be less sensitive and less likely to be triggered by allergens such as pollen and dust mites. 

Unlike anabolic steroids, nasal steroids are not made from the same kinds of drugs athletes use to build their muscles. Rather, they are man-made drugs that are similar to the chemical cortisol. 

You can feel the effects of nasal steroids within a few hours. However, to experience its full effect, you’ll have to use the spray consistently for several days to weeks. You can also take them with medications if necessary. 


Immunotherapy aims to help your body deal with allergens through gradual and increasing doses of allergens that you are allergic to. Yes, that’s right — it treats your allergies by exposing your body to allergens. 

Unlike most of the treatments we have mentioned, immunotherapy is more of a long term treatment. It does not simply treat symptoms or your allergies at the surface. Instead, it aims to help your body decrease sensitivity to allergens.

In immunotherapy, tiny shots are given to patients. As the dosage of allergens increase, your body will start to develop immunity and tolerance to the allergen, thus helping you attain lasting relief of allergy symptoms even after the treatment has stopped. 

In general, successful immunotherapy procedures can help you to control allergic rhinitis for 15 years without medication.

Lifestyle changes that can reduce your exposure to allergens

Besides turning to medical treatments, there are also many ways you can alter your lifestyle to help you reduce your exposure to allergens. 

Wear a mask

If you are allergic to pollen and haze particles, you’ll need to be more cautious about your surroundings. When passing by grassy or flowered areas, or if it’s during the haze season, you may consider wearing a mask to cover your mouth and nose. 

Allergic to haze particles? Read our tips here to learn more about what you can do during the haze season. 

Clean your house regularly

Keep your house clean and tidy to reduce the amount of dust mites in your environment. 

This includes changing your bed linens and washing them in hot water every week. 

Cleaning your curtains regularly will also help to reduce the amount of dust in your room. For hygiene purposes, you may consider replacing your curtains with window blinds.  

Other steps you can take to help you reduce exposure to allergens include using a HEPA purifier and washing your hands after petting animals. 

In general, there are many medical treatments you can consider to help you cope with hay fever. However, on top of relying on medical treatments, it’s also important to ensure that you make some lifestyle changes in order to relieve your hay fever symptoms. 

At the moment, there is still no treatment that can fully cure hay fever and allergic rhinitis. Most medical treatments can only help to ease symptoms or boost your body’s immunity. Since allergies can be caused by genetic factors, there is still no cure-all solution. 

Knowing what you’re allergic to and being able to tell when you’re experiencing a hay fever is crucial. 

Hay fever can seem like a cold on the surface, especially since its symptoms are similar to that of the common cold. If you’re still unsure whether you are allergic to certain substances, make sure to seek professional advice instead of self-diagnosing. 

Suffering from hay fever and need help to cope with it? Feel free to reach out to us.

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