Can allergies cause a sore throat?
By Jean Cherry, RN, MBA Mar 25, 2022 • 5 min
Ranging from slightly to seriously uncomfortable, sore throats are a pain in the neck—literally.
A scratchy and dry throat limits your ability to enjoy a conversation or a meal, and generally makes you miserable with each swallow.
Here’s how it happens: If you’re allergic to certain substances, known as allergens, your immune system overreacts to these substances and triggers symptoms that may include congestion in your nasal passages. The congestion is a buildup of thick mucus in your nose. Some of that extra mucus then may start to trickle down from your nose to the back of your throat. This is called postnasal drip. As the mucus trickles down, it can often cause irritation, making your throat start to tickle and then become scratchy and sore.
Common allergens that affect your nasal passages include:
While colds and the flu are caused by viruses or infections, allergies happen when your immune system overreacts to certain foreign substances as if they are harmful to your body. Allergies and colds have many symptoms in common, so figuring out which of these conditions is causing your sore throat can be challenging at first.
Both allergies and colds can cause:
- Stuffy head
- Runny nose
- Postnasal drip
- Itching of the nose, eyes or roof of the mouth
- Sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Watery, itchy eyes
- Dark under-eye circles
The difference between colds and allergies is the time frame. Colds typically last a week or two at the most. Allergies, on the other hand, can stick around for weeks or even months. This is especially true if you are continuously exposed to the allergen your body is reacting to.
Your healthcare provider can help you determine if your sore throat is caused by allergies and can advise you on the best options to treat the sore throat.
If you’ve ever suffered from a sore throat, you know that finding relief from the discomfort is key. The following remedies are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to treat the pain:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medication: Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are pain relievers used to treat mild to moderate discomfort. Finding a medication that contains an antihistamine can also help. These drugs are commonly used to treat allergies because they lower the impact of your body’s natural chemical histamine, which can make you sneeze and leave you with watery eyes or a runny nose.
- Liquids: Drinking plenty of fluids will help you stay hydrated and ease your scratchy, dry throat. Popsicles, soups and decaffeinated teas with honey are popular remedies, but do not give honey to children younger than age 1.
- Gargle with salt water: Add a quarter to a half teaspoon of salt to 8 oz. of warm water and gargle over a sink. This should provide some temporary relief from sore throat pain.
- Cough drops: Lozenges soothe a sore throat by keeping it moist.
- Use a humidifier: Sleeping in a bedroom with a running humidifier may help prevent that nighttime tickle in your throat by keeping the air moist. This may make you comfortable enough to get a good night’s rest, which will also make you feel better.
- Avoid allergens: If you know which substances trigger your allergies, try to eliminate them from your environment, if possible.
When to contact your healthcare provider
If your symptoms don’t improve, or you feel worse, you should contact your healthcare provider. The American Academy of Otolaryngology recommends alerting your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing, swallowing or opening your mouth
- Swelling of the neck or face
- A fever of 101°F or higher
- Lumps in the throat or neck
If you have allergies that lead to a sore throat, treating them with OTC medication or natural remedies may provide you with relief from pain and discomfort. However, if your symptoms worsen, contact your healthcare provider to rule out a more serious health concern.
Clinically reviewed and updated March 2022.