What Is the Difference Between Allergy and Hay Fever?

Medically Reviewed on 12/10/2021
What Is the Difference Between Allergy and Hay Fever
Hay fever is a type of allergy that occurs in response to specific allergens and typically lasts for months. Learn more about allergies vs. hay fever

Allergies occur when the body views any foreign substance or allergens as harmful and attacks it, causing reactions that range from hives, rash, sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and sinus pressure.  

Hay fever is a type of allergy that occurs in response to specific allergens and typically lasts for months. Symptoms are often mistaken for a cold.

Table 1: Allergy vs. hay fever
Clinical features Allergy Hay fever
Definition Occur when the body views a foreign substance (allergen) as harmful and attacks it Specific type of chronic allergic reaction
  • Pollen
  • Food
  • Mold and dust
  • Insects
  • Pet dander
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Strong odors
  • Air fresheners
  • Cleaning solutions, pool chlorine, car exhaust fumes, and other air pollutants
  • Outdoor allergens, such as pollens from trees, grass, weeds, and mold spores
  • Indoor allergens, such as pet hair or dander, dust mites, and mold
  • Irritants, such as cigarette smoke, perfume, and diesel exhaust
  • Rashes
  • Hives
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Anaphylactic shock in severe cases
  • Cold
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Watery eyes
Onset Develops immediately and stops once the allergen is removed Chronic condition that can last for months
  • Avoiding allergens
  • Allergy shots
  • Medications
  • Inhalers
  • Sublingual immunotherapy tablets
  • Avoiding contact with allergens
  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal corticosteroids
  • Decongestant medications
  • Allergy shots
  • Eye drops

What is the difference between hay fever and a cold?

Hay fever can produce symptoms similar to the common cold. However, hay fever is often chronic and can last for months. 

Table 2: Hay fever vs. common cold
Hay fever Common cold
Occurs due to exposure to an allergen Occurs due to exposure to a virus
Symptoms begin immediately after exposure to the allergen Symptoms start 1-3 days after exposure to the virus
Hay fever may continue as long as you are exposed to the allergens Cold may last for 3-7 days
Symptoms include a runny nose with thin, watery discharge Symptoms include a runny nose with thicker, yellow discharge
Does not cause fever May cause low-grade fever

How to treat allergies and hay fever


The primary approach to treating an allergic reaction is identifying and avoiding the allergen. If this isn’t a viable option, your doctor may prescribe treatment such as:

  • Allergy shots: Allergy shots involve exposing you to small amounts of allergens and then slowly increasing the amount over time to desensitize your body to the allergen. The treatment course begins with weekly shots and gradually moves to monthly shots. Sublingual allergy shots, a tablet form of allergy shots, may also be given to treat allergies.
  • Medications: Medications such as leukotriene inhibitors can be beneficial in blocking the immune cells released by the body when exposed to allergens. Inhalers may also help ease allergy symptoms.
  • Epinephrine auto-injector: For life-threatening allergies, you may need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector.

Hay fever

Your physician may develop a treatment plan based on:

  • Severity of symptoms
  • Allergen triggers
  • Medical needs

Avoiding the trigger is the initial step of the treatment course. Other treatment options may include:


Allergies can best be described as: See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 12/10/2021
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