Coughing from allergies

By Jean Cherry, RN, MBA Mar 21, 2022 • 7 min

Coughing is a reflex. It’s your body’s way of clearing your lungs of mucus and the microorganisms that could make you sick. Even though there may be a good reason you cough, it can still be very disruptive. Coughing can stop you from finishing a sentence, be embarrassing during a meeting or public event, and even prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. You may also notice people avoiding you because they don’t want to catch your cough. 

Figuring out why you’re coughing can be the first step in finding the best way to treat it.

Can allergies cause coughing?

Yes. Coughing is often a sign that you have a virus or an infection, like a cold or the flu. But it also can be caused by allergies. If you don’t have an illness but have a chronic cough longer than three weeks, the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology states that it could be allergies.

If you notice that you cough more at certain times of the year, like during spring or fall, or when you’re in a specific setting, such as a damp basement or a home with a cat or dog, allergies may be to blame.

How do allergies trigger coughing?

Allergies can cause irritation and swelling of your body’s airways.  Allergies can also cause your body to make extra mucus called postnasal drip. This additional mucus trickles down your throat from your nose, often leaving you with a scratchy throat and dry cough.

You may also have other symptoms that go hand-in-hand with allergies, including:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy and watery eyes 
  • Dark circles under your eyes

Removing allergens like dust, pet dander, mold, pollen and smoke from your home may help. If not, it might be time to look at other options.

Allergy cough medicine

Once you or your healthcare provider determine that your cough is caused by allergies, you could be referred to an allergist who may order skin testing. The prick or puncture test applies a diluted allergen to the skin surface. Likewise, the intradermal test uses a small needle to inject the diluted allergen underneath the skin surface. After approximately 15 minutes, the skin is observed for a red, raised or itchy patch: The larger the red area, the higher the sensitivity. As many as 40 different allergens can be tested at once.

Your healthcare provider may suggest allergy cough medicine. Some over-the-counter medications include antihistamines, decongestants and cough suppressants.

  • Brompheniramine. Found in allergy cough medication, it is an antihistamine that lowers the effects of your body’s natural chemical histamine, which can make you sneeze and give you watery eyes or a runny nose.
  • Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine. Common decongestants that decrease postnasal drip by constricting blood vessels and shrinking inflamed membranes to allow air through nasal passages. They are effective when used for a short time.
  • Dextromethorphan or DM. A common cough suppressant that works by decreasing the signals in your brain that trigger your cough reflex. This type of medication should only be used for dry, hacking coughs, as coughing is a defense mechanism to clear airways of mucus and microbes.

If you’re taking any other medications, talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist before you try an allergy cough medicine.

Natural home cough remedies

If you’d like to avoid taking medication, you can try the following natural remedies: 

Water—Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water helps thin the mucus that might be causing your cough. 

Honey is a go-to remedy for soothing sore throats and can decrease the frequency and severity of coughs. You can keep it simple and swallow a spoonful of honey on its own to coat your throat, or try two teaspoons in a cup of tea or warm water. 

Gargling with salt water can help with pain and offer temporary relief. Add a quarter to a half teaspoon of salt to 8 ounces of warm water and gargle over a sink. 

Cough drops offer a quick and easy way to keep coughing under control by moistening your throat. Cough drops come in many flavors and can ease that scratchy feeling that sets off a dry cough. 

When to contact your healthcare provider

If you’ve tried all of the above and your cough continues, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your healthcare provider to rule out a more serious condition. 

If allergies are causing your cough, the sooner you treat it, the better you may feel.

Clinically reviewed and updated March 2022. 

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