Can Allergies Make You Cough? Here’s What a Doctor Says

Wondering if that cough during allergy season is something more? A licensed allergist has the answer on whether allergies can make you cough.

It’s exciting to watch flowers bloom as the weather turns warm, but those spring allergies can be a buzzkill. If you find yourself always sneezing and itching as the seasons turn, you may be dealing with a seasonal allergy from pollen now floating in the air. But can allergies make you cough, as well? In the era of COVID-19 and recent harsh flu seasons, it can be confusing to know whether symptoms like fever or cough are linked to typical seasonal allergies. So is your cough from a virus, or are allergies to blame?

The answer is indeed it could be your allergies, according to a medical doctor specializing in allergy care and immunity. While allergies are typically associated with sneezing and watery, itchy eyes, coughing is also a common symptom of allergies—both with seasonal allergies and allergies that linger all year.

To better understand what causes it and how to stop an allergy cough, The Healthy @Reader’s Digest asked Dr. Andrea Burke, MD, a New York City-based board-certified allergist and immunologist.

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What causes an allergy cough?

According to Dr. Burke, there are two main ways that allergies can make you cough: Upper Airway Cough Syndrome (UACS) and allergic asthma.

“[Upper Airway Cough Syndrome] occurs when people with allergies experience swelling in the nose,” Dr. Burke explains. “The swelling leads to mucus production. If mucus drains anteriorly (out the front), people will have a ‘runny nose.’ If mucus drains posteriorly (down the back of the throat), we call this ‘post-nasal drip.'”

Dr. Burke adds that post-nasal drip can cause irritation in the back of the throat, which can lead to repeated throat clearing and coughing throughout the day.

Allergic asthma is slightly different, occurring when a person is breathing in an allergen that triggers asthma—like pollen, dust, or animal dander. “Symptoms can include cough, as well as wheeze, chest tightness, and shortness of breath,” Dr. Burke says. “The symptoms are a result of allergic inflammation in the airways of the lungs and the reactivity of these airways. Because the symptoms arise from the lungs, we often use inhaled medications.”

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Here’s how to stop an allergy cough

If you’re dealing with an uncomfortable cough from allergies, Dr. Burke says there are a few steps you can take to alleviate this seemingly relentless symptom.

Step one: Find out what you’re allergic to

The easiest way to start treatment for an allergy cough is to know what’s triggering that cough in the first place. Dr. Burke recommends seeing an allergist to get a skin or blood test to determine that allergen so a doctor can write up the best plan for treatment.

Step two: Minimize exposure to allergens

“Once you know what you are allergic to, try strategies to minimize exposure to allergens,” says Dr. Burke. “For instance: Putting allergen covers on your mattress and pillows to minimize dust mite exposure, running an air purifier with a HEPA filter in the home to reduce allergens in the air, and keeping the windows closed when pollen counts are high.”

If you’re dealing with a seasonal allergy, you can determine the severity of the pollen count in your area. The most common pollen seasonal allergies include:

  • tree pollen (March through May)
  • grass pollen (May through July)
  • ragweed pollen (August and September)

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Step three: Try allergy medications

Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can noticeably relieve allergy symptoms—including an allergy cough. “Allergy medications taken by mouth can help reduce allergy symptoms in both the nose and lungs: Over-the-counter antihistamines (such as cetirizine) and/or prescription medications (such as montelukast).”

For Upper Airway Cough Syndrome, try nasal rinses

If your allergy cough is coming from Upper Airway Cough Syndrome, Dr. Burke says another simple solution is to regularly rinse allergens and mucus from your airway with saltwater nasal rinses and sprays. These include nasal corticosteroids, which help reduce allergic inflammation and swelling in the nose that cause you to cough.

For allergic asthma, try inhalers

As for allergic asthma, Dr. Burke says an inhaler could be beneficial for relaxing and opening up the airways. She recommends inhalers that are anti-inflammatory, such as albuterol or fluticasone.

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health, and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader's Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That!, and more.