Allergy Cough: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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Coughing can be a frustrating side effect of allergies. This symptom can be triggered by allergens such as tree pollen and grass, animal dander, dust mites, and mold, mildew or fungus spores. Allergic reactions cause postnasal drip—mucus that drains from your nose into the back of your throat—causing an itch or tickle in your throat that leads to coughing. Learn more about allergy-related cough in this article.

Woman coughing

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Symptoms: What Does an Allergy Cough Feel Like?

Allergy-related cough is typically a "dry" cough, meaning you probably won't cough up any mucus or phlegm. It can become chronic, lasting for several weeks at a time. Coughing can occur with several different conditions and illnesses. You'll likely see a specialist, such as an allergist, for specific testing to diagnose your allergies.

Although coughing occurs with a variety of medical conditions, allergy cough occurs with other allergy symptoms, including:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, stuffy nose
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing or whistling sound when exhaling
  • Skin rashes
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention

Allergic reactions can become life-threatening. This condition, called anaphylactic shock, more often occurs with allergies to food, medications, insect bites/stings, or latex. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Clammy/wet/sweaty skin
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

You might also feel like your throat is swelling or closing during an anaphylactic reaction.

Asthma

Coughing can be a symptom of an asthma attack. This condition also shares many of the same symptoms as allergies, including:

  • Increased breathing rate
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tight feeling in the chest
  • Sense of panic or increased anxiety
  • Pale skin
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Blue lips
  • Shallow breathing

Cold/Flu

Coughing can occur with the common cold or the flu. Other symptoms can include:

  • Chest tightness or discomfort
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • High fever
  • Fatigue

COVID-19

COVID-19 is another medical condition that can cause a cough. However, there are other common symptoms, which can include:

  • Loss of taste
  • Loss of smell
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Body aches
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose or nasal congestion
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue

Other Causes

A variety of illnesses and medical conditions that affect the lungs can cause coughing. These can include bronchitis, pneumonia, and other forms of lung disease. Coughing can also occur as a side effect of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

How to Get Rid of Allergy Cough

To get rid of your allergy cough, you've got to treat your underlying allergies. Symptoms can be treated with medications as well as home remedies.

Medications

Several types of medications can be used to treat allergies. They indirectly reduce your coughing by decreasing the postnasal drip causing your symptoms.

Some are available as over-the-counter medications while others might require a doctor's prescription, depending on the severity of your symptoms. They are:

  • Antihistamines: This type of medication blocks the action of histamines. These chemicals in your body help fight off allergens, foreign substances that it mistakenly thinks are dangerous to the body, leading to allergy symptoms.
  • Decongestants: These medications reduce swelling in your nasal passages, which helps decrease congestion.
  • Steroids: Corticosteroid nasal sprays are the most effective treatment for nasal allergy symptoms. These are available over the counter or by prescription. Oral corticosteroids are strong medications that are sometimes used to treat more severe allergy symptoms. These medications are prescribed by a doctor.

Alternative Treatment

Home remedies, such as the following, can also be effective for managing allergy symptoms, including a cough:

  • Nasal rinse/irrigation: Sinuses and nasal passages can be rinsed out, removing bacteria and excess mucus. Several types of irrigation devices can be used, such as a neti pot, bulb syringe, or squeeze bottle. Distilled water and salt are commonly used with these devices. Tap water should not be used as it can contain bacteria and make your symptoms worse.
  • Saline nasal sprays: While they don't contain medication, saline nasal sprays help rinse debris and bacteria out of your nose to improve breathing, reduce postnasal drip, and help get rid of your dry cough.
  • Inhale steam: Breathing water vapor through steam can loosen mucous and decrease coughing caused by allergies. You can easily accomplish this by spending a little more time in a hot shower. Or try a commercial device made specifically for this purpose.

You can also make your own steam bath by boiling water, standing over the pot, and placing a towel over the top of your head to trap the steam. Use caution with this method—getting too close to the steam can cause burns.

Prevention

While you can't prevent yourself from developing allergies, you can reduce the frequency of your allergic reactions that cause coughing and other unpleasant side effects.

Preventive steps can include:

  • Identify and avoid your triggers: See an allergist for testing to determine what you're allergic to. Once you know your triggers, avoid them whenever possible.
  • Clean up your environment: Allergies to dust and pet dander can be reduced by keeping your environment clean. Replace air filters frequently and keep your pet out of your bedroom. Vacuum after your pet has been on your rugs or furniture.
  • Watch the weather: If you have outdoor allergies, such as to pollen or mold spores, watch the weather. Windy days increase the amount of these allergens in the air, increasing your chances of breathing them in.
  • Time your activities: During allergy season, pollen levels tend to be higher in the morning. Plan your outdoor activities during the evening, if possible.
  • Get your shots: Talk to your allergist about allergy shots. This form of treatment slowly introduces small amounts of your allergen into your body to decrease sensitivity over time.

A Word From Verywell

Allergy symptoms, including a cough, can interfere with your overall quality of life. Be proactive in treating your condition and implement preventive measures that can help limit exposure to your triggers. Talk to your doctor about allergy testing and interventions that can help reduce your symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why are peanut allergies so severe?

    Food allergies, such as peanuts, more commonly trigger severe allergic reactions than other types of allergies. These reactions can be life-threatening.

  • What does an allergy cough sound like?

    Coughing from allergies is typically a "dry" cough. However, it can be difficult to identify an allergy cough just by its sound. This type of cough is sometimes described as "barking."

  • What is GERD cough?

    GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, can lead to cough—particularly at night. Stomach acid flows backward into your esophagus, causing heartburn. These symptoms can cause you to cough.

  • When is cough serious?

    While coughing is annoying, it isn't typically serious. See your doctor if you are coughing up blood or thick yellow-green phlegm, or if your coughing makes it difficult to breathe.

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8 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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