How to Tell If Allergies Are Causing Your Cough, According to a Doctor

Plus, what you can do to find relief ASAP.

Coughing is one of the most common—and uncomfortable—symptoms that comes around each spring, and too many of us are forced to play a familiar guessing game: Do I have allergies or a cold? But, a more specific question to ask might be: Can allergies make you cough?

While a persistent cough is a common symptom of the slew of viruses that are going around (dry cough is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19), it can just be a sign that your allergies are in full swing as the flowers start to bloom. Here, a doctor explains what to look out for and how to feel better ASAP.

Can Allergies Make You Cough?

Yes! This is because coughing is a natural response to irritation in your throat or airways. “To put it simply, receptors in the throat, trachea, and lungs respond and lead to activation of the “cough center” in the brain,” explains Clifford Bassett, M.D., founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York. So when your body mistakes a substance like pollen or mold as a harmful invader, it sets off an intense response to try and flush it out, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAI).

“Allergy coughs are typically caused by swelling or irritation of the airways,” the AAAI says. And, if you develop post-nasal drip—when the mucus hanging out in your sinuses trickles down the back of your throat—that can also cause a cough, Dr. Bassett says.

There are two ways in which allergies can cause coughing, says Martin Smith, M.D, double board-certified allergist and immunologist at Cleveland Clinic and founder of Untoxicated. “Firstly, allergies lead to increased mucus production in your nose, which causes post-nasal-drip. This irritates your vocal cords causing you to cough,” he explains. Secondly, if you have asthma, then allergens can trigger a flare with pretty intense coughing, which can land you in the emergency room, he notes.

How Can You Tell If Your Cough Is Due To Allergies?

First, evaluate the type of cough you have. Allergies can cause a dry cough (no phlegm or mucus) or wet cough (very phlegmy), Dr. Bassett says, but post-nasal drip typically leads to a dry cough. The AAAI also points to a “chronic” dry cough—meaning it has lasted for more than three weeks—as a sign of allergies.

Usually, allergies do not just cause a cough in isolation, says Dr. Smith. “You will usually have other symptoms such as nasal congestion, itching, and sneezing. Eye symptoms are also common with itching, redness and tearing.” Keep in mind that coughs caused by pollen allergies typically follow a seasonal pattern, adds Katie Marks-Cogan, M.D., chief allergist and co-founder Ready. Set. Food!.

Coughs caused by allergies are also not typically associated with fevers or body aches, like bacterial or viral coughs often are, says Dr. Marks-Cogan. “Coughs caused by bacterial or viral infections [like the common cold, flu, and COVID-19] also tend to be more likely to be wet and produce mucus,” she notes.

How To Relieve Your Allergy Symptoms

The best approach for environmental allergy symptoms often depends on the severity and type of allergies, says Dr. Marks-Cogan. “It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting treatment for allergies, as they can provide guidance based on your specific symptoms and health history,” she explains. Still, if you need fast relief, here are a few recommendations:


Finding out exactly what a person is allergic to, through allergy skin testing or blood testing, can be helpful when managing symptoms, says Dr. Marks-Cogan. There are many control measures that can be recommended to decrease exposure to allergens. This can mean keeping windows closed during pollen season, using air purifiers, or keeping pets out of certain rooms, she suggests

Over-The-Counter Medication

Antihistamines can help with itchy skin, nose or eyes as well as runny nose and sneezing, says Dr. Marks-Cogan. Oral antihistamines, like Claritin and Allegra, help block the histamines that set off symptoms in the first place. Nasal steroid sprays, like Flonase, can help clear a stuffy nose if you’re dealing with that, too. Nasal irrigation can also be helpful by flushing allergens out of the nose, she adds.

Prescription Medication

If the OTC medications are not enough to cure your allergy-induced cough, it may be time to visit with an allergist who can prescribe stronger medications and offer other treatments such as allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots or drops), says Dr. Marks-Cogan. “Allergy shots involve injecting small doses of allergens into the patient in increasing amounts over time with a goal of helping the immune system become desensitized to the allergen, which will reduce the severity of allergic reactions and possibly eliminate them,” she explains.

Home Remedies

Natural remedies such as honey or herbal supplements are used by some. However, the effectiveness of these can vary, and they should be used under the guidance of an allergist, says Dr. Marks-Cogan.

But the right treatment “depends largely on the cause for a cough,” Dr. Bassett says. Along with that, you also need to determine if your cough is due to allergies or asthma, says Purvi Parikh, M.D., allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network. Cough is most commonly a sign of asthma and if this turns out to be your situation, treating your asthma symptoms will require prescription meds such as an inhaler, she explains.

How To Prevent Allergy Symptoms

It has been shown that you can actually help prevent some children from developing allergies by having a dog in the house in early childhood (prior to the age of 3 months), says Dr. Smith. “This has been shown to decrease their risk of developing seasonal allergies as well as asthma and even food allergies.” Still, for those of us who have already developed allergies, there are some environmental measures that you can employ to reduce your allergen exposure dramatically, says Dr. Smith.

Per Dr. Marks-Cogan, the effects of environmental allergies can be largely prevented by avoiding allergy triggers. Here is what she recommends, based on the most common allergens:

  • For pollen allergies, stay indoors and avoid activities like mowing the lawn (or wear a mask when doing it!). Check local pollen counts and avoid outdoor activities during peak pollen hours which are often midday. During warm weather, keep doors and windows shut to protect your indoor air, and run air conditioning to help filter out pollen and dust.
  • For dust mite allergies, replace carpets and drapes with hard surface flooring and window covers. Add a dust-mite (allergen) cover to mattresses and pillows, and wash bedding in hot water at least weekly. Try to avoid using humidifiers which can make the indoor environment better for dust mites’ survival. Try to minimize stuffed animals for dust-allergic children, or buy plush toys that can be washed with the bedding.
  • For pet allergies, cleaning your pet often and regularly bathing it to remove dander will help reduce symptoms. Keep animals out of the allergic person’s bedroom as well.

Running a high-efficiency air purifier using a HEPA filter may be helpful as well, especially in the allergy sufferer’s bedroom, suggests Dr. Marks-Cogan. Frequent vacuuming, once to twice a week, especially with a HEPA filter equipped vacuum, is also recommended, adds Dr. Smith. “If you have a bagged vacuum, then a double lined bag, or microfiber bag works best,” he notes.

When To See A Doctor About Your Allergies

When the over-the-counter options are not cutting it or the symptoms start to affect your quality of life, it’s time to see an allergist, says Dr. Smith. “It is especially important to go see a doctor if it is causing your asthma to flare, as this could be very serious,” he notes.

It’s especially important to see a doctor if your cough is also associated with shortness of breath or chest pain, says Dr. Parikh. Be sure to also see a doctor if your cough is “productive of phlegm, as this may indicate an infection,” she explains.

Note that it is always a good idea to confirm an allergy with a board-certified allergist before making changes to your home or routine, says Dr. Marks-Cogan. “Once you have a confirmed allergy, an allergist can help you identify the best regimen to prevent and treat your symptoms.”

Important Notice: This article was originally published at by Jake Smith and Madeleine Haase where all credits are due.


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