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Can allergies make you cough?

Allergens can trigger an inflammatory response in your airways, increase mucus production, and exacerbate asthma

Key takeaways

  • In addition to symptoms like sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion, and a runny nose, it’s common to experience a dry cough with seasonal allergies.

  • You can tell if allergies cause your cough if it is unaccompanied by symptoms of an infection, such as body aches, fever, chills, headache, sore throat, and yellow nasal discharge.

  • Treatment for an allergic cough consists of lifestyle changes, home remedies, and medications—the most effective are antihistamines, decongestants, inhaled corticosteroids, and short-acting beta agonist inhalers.

Seasonal allergies can turn a perfect spring or summer day into a sneeze-fest. Uncomfortable allergy symptoms—such as itchy eyes, runny nose, or nasal congestion—often disrupt sleep, affect concentration, and impact overall quality of life. Also called hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis, seasonal allergies are typically caused by airborne allergens like mold spores, pollen, grasses, and weeds. Ragweed is the most common allergy culprit, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

When these substances come into contact with the body, the immune system releases chemicals called histamines to expel the allergens, triggering an inflammatory response that affects our nose, eyes, and even lungs. Individuals sensitive to pollen, mold, dust mites, pet dander, or other common allergens may experience a dry, chronic cough. What’s more, allergies can worsen asthma symptoms in individuals with the condition. Allergies, asthma, and eczema often occur together and can be triggered by common allergens.

Keep reading to find out why allergies make you cough, plus how to tell if your cough is caused by allergies and treatment options to try.

Do allergies make you cough?

“Yes, allergies can indeed make you cough,” says Don. J. Beasley, MD, a board-certified otolaryngologist at Boise ENT in Boise, Idaho. Allergic cough occurs as part of your body’s reaction to allergens, leading to an inflammatory response in your airways that makes you cough even if you aren’t sick with a virus or bacterial infection, he explains. Allergies such as pollen or dust can cause irritation and swelling of the airways, leading to increased mucus production and coughing.

Allergic coughs can also occur from postnasal drip (excess mucus production that drips down the back of the throat) that causes throat irritation, explains Sebastian Lighvani, MD, a board-certified allergist at Northwell Health’s Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, New York. This type of cough reflex sometimes feels like a tickle at the back of the throat.

In some cases, allergies can exacerbate underlying respiratory conditions like asthma, worsening the likelihood of coughing. In fact, according to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergies are the most common asthma trigger.

RELATED: Best medicine for an asthma cough

How do I know if my cough is from allergies?

It’s not easy to differentiate between a cough caused by allergies, a viral infection like the common cold or flu, or a bacterial infection like pneumonia. That said, there are specific signs to watch out for—such as accompanying symptoms, the cough’s duration, and the sound of your cough.

Accompanying symptoms

According to Drs. Beasley and Lighvani, symptoms that suggest a cough is allergy-related include:

  • A persistent cough that consistently worsens in certain environments or seasons.
  • Association with other allergic symptoms such as nasal congestion, itchy eyes, red or watery eyes, runny nose with clear mucus, or frequent sneezing.
  • Absence of fever or other signs of infectious illness.

“Cough related to viral or bacterial infections is typically associated with other clinical features of infections, including fevers, chills, body aches, headaches, sore throat, and yellow nasal discharge,” explains Dr. Lighvani. What’s more, viral and bacterial infections typically don’t cause itching or thin mucus from the nose or eyes.

Timing of cough

Allergies occur at the same time every year (usually the spring through fall) and last about as long as a specific allergen is in circulation (usually two to three weeks). However, Dr. Lighvani says you may experience year-round symptoms from environmental allergens like dust, mold, and pet dander.


The duration of your cough can also help you determine its cause. An illness-related cough may come on strong for a few days and taper off as you recover over a week or two, whereas an allergic cough can last weeks or months.


Moreover, the sound of your cough can help determine its cause. “An allergy cough is typically dry and persistent. It may be hacking in nature,” says Dr. Beasley. On the flip side, “very wet and productive coughs with discolored mucus suggest an infectious process,” explains Dr. Lighvani.

RELATED: 10 ways to get rid of a dry cough | 12 ways to get rid of phlegm

How to treat a cough from allergies

As annoying as an allergic cough may be, there are ways to stop it. Dr. Beasley says that treatment options include:

Natural remedies and lifestyle changes

  • Try nasal irrigation with a neti pot to clear your sinuses and nasal passages.
  • Drink herbal teas with honey to temporarily soothe an allergic cough.
  • Avoid allergens by keeping windows closed, keeping car air conditioning settings on re-circulate,  and staying indoors on high-pollen days.
  • Allergy-proof your living space by investing in allergy-proof bedding (pillowcases and mattress covers), removing unnecessary carpeting, rugs, and curtains,  and cleaning your home regularly.
  • Use air purifiers and humidifiers to cleanse and moisten the air, changing filters regularly.
  • Stay hydrated and well-rested to support your immune system.
  • Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke and irritants like strong perfumes and cleaning products.


Several types of medications treat allergy symptoms and allergic cough, including:

“Cough related to allergic postnasal drip is most effectively treated with oral antihistamines and intranasal steroids, which can be purchased over-the-counter (OTC),” says Dr. Lighvani. While second-generation, less-sedating antihistamines like Zyrtec, Allegra, and Claritin are preferred for daily treatment, first-generation antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may have better drying effects but can cause sedation.

Dr. Lighvani says the most effective treatments for allergic asthma include short-acting beta-agonists (SABAs) such as Ventolin (albuterol) and inhaled corticosteroids like Flovent, Pulmicort, and Advair. Other therapeutic options include long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs) like Advair Diskus (fluticasone-salmeterol).

RELATED: Nasal sprays for allergies 

When to see your healthcare provider

Dr. Beasley recommends consulting a healthcare provider in the following situations:

  • Your cough persists for several weeks.
  • Your symptoms are severe and interfere with daily life.
  • Over-the-counter medications do not provide relief.
  • You experience wheezing or shortness of breath, which can be due to asthma or emphysema.

He advises seeking immediate medical attention if you experience anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, or any other symptoms associated with a medical emergency. They include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
  • Severe wheezing
  • Difficulty speaking or slurred speech
  • Chest tightness or discomfort
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Unconsciousness

To identify your allergy triggers and address the underlying cause of your symptoms, a formal evaluation and allergy testing with a board-certified allergist is highly recommended. “In addition, many patients with asthma would benefit from evaluation by an allergy and asthma specialist, which may include breathing tests and measurements of airway inflammation,” adds Dr. Beasley.