How to Get Over an Allergy Cough

Identifying and removing the allergen is key, if possible

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An allergy cough happens when you breathe in a substance (allergen) that your immune system recognizes as dangerous, though it's not. The cough is typically dry and non-productive, meaning it doesn't bring up mucus. It is sometimes described as having a "barking" or "hacking" sound.

Tree and grass pollen, pet dander, dust mites, or mold are just a few allergens that can cause an allergy cough. An allergy cough will last until it’s treated or you remove the allergen that triggered it.

This article discusses why allergies cause coughs, other symptoms that may accompany one, at-home treatments that may help, and when you should see a provider.

Why Do You Cough From Allergies?

An allergy cough is caused by your immune system's overreaction to a substance (allergen). The cough is not caused by an infection like it is when you have a cold or the flu. Rather, it's a common symptom of seasonal allergies and hay fever.

When you're exposed to an allergen, your immune system makes immunoglobulin E (IgE). This substance sets off a chain reaction that starts with immune cells (mast cells and basophils) breaking open and releasing the chemical histamine into the bloodstream.

Histamine is the main cause of allergy symptoms. It causes tiny blood vessels to widen and leak fluid into the tissues nearby. When this happens in the nose and sinuses, it can lead to congestion and a runny nose.

An allergy-related cough happens when that mucus drains from your nose and down the back of your throat (postnasal drip). The drainage can make your throat itch or tickle, which triggers coughing.

Allergy Medications That Cause Coughs

Some medications used to treat allergies can also cause a cough. One example is a certain type of antihistamine.

Antihistamines work by keeping histamine from attaching to cells and triggering inflammation. Second-generation antihistamines like Claritin (loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine) can relieve allergy symptoms without causing drowsiness, a side effect of earlier antihistamines. 

While that's a significant pro, coughing is a common side effect. Antihistamines have a drying effect and can leave the throat feeling scratchy, which can make you cough.

This cough is generally mild and will go away when you stop treatment.

Symptoms of an Allergy Cough

An allergy cough can feel like a persistent tickle or irritation at the back of the throat. It's usually accompanied by other allergy symptoms, including:

Generally speaking, an allergy-related cough does not bring up mucus or phlegm. In some people, the cough can become chronic and last for several weeks.

Is It Allergies or Something Else?

Allergy coughs can sometimes be hard to tell from conditions like asthma or an upper respiratory tract infection

An allergy can also set off asthma, which can cause a cough and trouble breathing. In this case, you may have chest tightness, shortness of breath (dyspnea), and wheezing caused by the narrowing of your airways.

With infections like the flu or COVID-19, you are more likely to have other symptoms along with a cough, such as fever, chill, and body or muscle aches. 

You could also have symptoms like loss of taste or smell as well as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if you have COVID.

Allergy Cough vs. Cold Cough

  • “Dry” cough (no mucus production) 

  • No fever and usually no sore throat (the throat may feel dry or “tickle”)

  • Can come with cold-like symptoms (sneezing, congestion) but also other symptoms like itchy, watery eyes and skin rashes

  • Caused by triggers (e.g., dust, pet dander, pollen, mold)

  • Can last weeks or longer, especially if more active during certain seasons (e.g., spring allergies)

  • “Wet” cough (produces mucus)

  • Fever and sore throat

  • Other symptoms (e.g., sneezing, runny nose, congestion)

  • Caused by a virus

  • Usually gets better in a few days to a couple of weeks

How to Treat an Allergy Cough

Providers usually suggest starting with oral antihistamines to help with allergy symptoms. They are considered a "first-line" treatment and work by blocking the underlying mechanisms that can lead to an allergy cough.

You may also find some relief with certain natural remedies, though research is limited.

Over-the-Counter Options

If you need allergy symptom relief during the day, second-generation antihistamines are usually preferred because they are less likely to cause drowsiness.

Treatment of Allergy Cough - Illustration by Theresa Chiechi

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Other over-the-counter (OTC) options can also help you treat an allergy cough at home:

Treating a Nighttime Allergy Cough

If your allergy cough is keeping you up at night, try taking a first-generation antihistamine like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) before you go to bed. In this case, the side effect of drowsiness works in your favor.

Natural Allergy Cough Treatments

Here are a few natural treatments for dry coughs that may help with allergy coughs. Many are available as teas, which can be warm and soothing:

When Your Allergy Cough Is Not Improving

A cough from allergies is not usually a serious threat to your health, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with. Allergy symptoms can interfere with your daily life and may even keep you from getting enough sleep. 

If you have an allergy cough that is not being managed with OTC treatments and avoiding triggers, see your healthcare provider.

How an Allergist Can Help

If your allergy cough is severe and affecting your quality of life, you might be referred to a specialist known as an allergist. An allergist can do tests to determine which allergens you are hypersensitive to.

Two tests that are commonly used to diagnose allergies include:

  • Skin prick test: This involves putting tiny amounts of suspected allergens under your skin to see if a reaction occurs.
  • Blood tests: IgE-specific blood tests (also known as RAST testing) can detect antibodies associated with certain allergens.

An allergist can also determine if your cough is related to allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or asthma and help you find the right treatment(s) to ease your symptoms. You might even be able to get long-term relief with a treatment like allergy shots.

Signs of an Emergency

An allergy cough is usually not a serious medical problem. However, coughing and trouble breathing can be signs of a potentially life-threatening, whole-body allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

The symptoms of anaphylaxis come on suddenly and are severe. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to shock, coma, heart or respiratory failure, and death.

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you experience the following signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis along with your allergy cough:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • A sudden outbreak of hives or rash
  • Feeling fainting or lightheaded
  • Sudden, severe diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Swelling of the face, neck, or throat
  • A feeling of impending doom

How to Prevent an Allergy Cough

You can't always avoid allergies, but there are a few steps you can take to try to reduce your exposure to the allergens that trigger coughing and other symptoms:

  • Identify and avoid triggers. Start by keeping an allergy diary. Take note of where you were and everything you did leading up to when you started having an allergic reaction. Over time, you may see a pattern emerging. This information can help you identify the allergens causing your cough and other allergy symptoms.
  • Watch the weather. If you have hay fever, check local weather reports to see when pollen or mold levels are high. Windy days also increase the number of allergens in the air, which makes an allergy attack more likely to happen.
  • Time your activities. During allergy season, pollen levels tend to be higher in the morning. If you can, plan your outdoor activities during the evening.
  • Clean your environment. Allergies to dust and pet dander can be reduced by keeping your home clean. Replace air filters frequently and keep pets out of your bedroom. It also helps to vacuum after your pet has been on rugs or furniture.


Coughing is a common symptom of seasonal allergies and hay fever. The cough is usually caused by mucus drainage that irritates your throat (post-nasal drip).

Allergy coughs can be treated with OTC antihistamines, expectorants, decongestants, nasal irrigation, and steam inhalation. 

If you have frequent or severe allergies, a visit to an allergist could be useful because you’ll learn which allergens are causing your symptoms or if another condition is to blame instead.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.