Hayfever in this COVID world

Recommendations from some of our ANU experts

COVID-19 transmission and preventive measures 

Sotiris Vardoulakis, inaugural Professor of Global Environmental Health at the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, recommends reading this article that their team have published on COVID-19 transmission and preventive health measures, including facemasks.


Simon Haberle, Professor of Natural History and Director of the School of Culture, History & Language, recommends staying up to date with the advice from his Canberra Pollen team.  

Up to 50% of the population have the potential to suffer from allergy conditions of hay fever and seasonal asthma. ANU research has identified grass pollens as the major contributor to allergies in the outdoor atmosphere of the city. If forewarned, hayfever and asthma sufferers can take preventative measures such as avoiding high pollen areas (e.g. gardens and the countryside) or by taking appropriate medication with them when venturing outside. [Source: https://www.canberrapollen.com.au/about/] 

Their colleagues in the MelbournePollen team also put this helpful message out about thunderstorm asthma risk, grass pollen and COVID-19 advice 

Follow Simon (@thatpollenguy) and Canberra Pollen (@CanberraPollen) on Twitter for pollen updates and advice! 

Message from our Professor Tracy Smart, our Public Health Lead for the COVID response at ANU on Monday 23 November.

Hayfever and asthma season is well and truly here, not just in Canberra but across Australia. The general consensus is that this season is a bad one, with regular sufferers experiencing much worse symptoms than previous years, and others are suffering symptoms for the first time in their life. 

In our new COVID world, it is vital that we don't assume that our symptoms are related to allergies. Many of you can tell the difference between your seasonal hayfever or asthma symptoms and those typical of a cold or flu.  I have had allergy symptoms for many weeks but last week I could tell that I was coming down with a bit of a cold and got myself tested for COVID. I tested negative thank goodness. But if you are not used to it then you may be worried or confused as to whether your symptoms could be COVID. Below are some tips about what to do if you are not sure. 

Why is it so bad this year? 

In Australia, we’re experiencing a wet year weather-wise, resulting in a high pollen load. Pollen causes allergic reactions ranging from sneezing, runny noses and itchiness, to respiratory difficulties and coughing. This means doctors and healthcare professionals are on alert to differentiate those with hayfever or asthma from suspected COVID patients. 

I’m pretty sure its hayfever, but should I isolate or get tested for COVID? 

We should always be alert and remember that if you think your symptoms are more than just an allergic reaction then treat it like COVID until proven otherwise. 

If you are a hayfever sufferer, the ACT Health advice is to see your GP at the beginning of Spring to discuss a management plan for your hayfever or asthma. They will discuss how to prevent symptoms, for instance by the use of preventative medications, and what you should do if you develop them, including when you might need to make an appointment with your GP for review or get tested for COVID-19. 

If you follow the advice of your GP, you might not need to get tested every time you have hayfever symptoms. 

If you have fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath – isolate yourself and get tested. If you are in doubt, phone your GP to discuss. 

If you are unsure if your symptoms are related to hayfever, self-isolate until you are able to seek medical advice. 

My colleague is coughing or sneezing and says it's just hayfever, but how can I be sure? 

If you are concerned about a colleague exhibiting symptoms that could be COVID-19, I suggest you talk to them about it. If they reassure you that it is just hayfever or asthma, particularly on a day when pollen count is high and when they have a long history of symptoms, then its best to take them at their word. If you continue to feel uncomfortable then excuse yourself from their vicinity. 

Remember, this year is pretty tough and we need to show kindness and respect as we work together to get through in one piece. 


Tracy Smart AO
Professor, Military and Aerospace Medicine
Public Health Lead - COVID Response Office