Medically reviewed by Marc Meth, MD, FACAAI, FAAAI — Written by Hana Ames
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (ACAAI), if a person is sensitive to dust, pet dander, pollen, mold, or other common allergens, they are likely to experience coughing as a result of allergies.
Coughing occasionally is completely normal. Some people may find that a cough occurs more often in certain environments or during particular seasons. This could mean the cough is a symptom of an allergic reaction.
Allergy cough triggers
The ACAAI estimates that between 40–50 million people in the United States live with some type of allergy. There are many types of allergies, including food, drug, and environmental allergies.
An allergy is a condition in which a person’s immune system overreacts to something that is usually harmless. A person with an allergy may be sensitive to a food item, pollen, or an insect sting.
One symptom of an allergy is a cough. This is often the result of irritation and inflammation in the airways that develop as part of the immune response to an allergen.
Some of the common triggers that may cause an allergy cough include:
- seasonal pollen (hay fever/allergic rhinitis)
- mold spores
- animal dander, urine, or saliva
- dust and dust mites
An allergic cough can occur from a reaction in the upper respiratory system, lower respiratory system, or both.
Upper respiratory system
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is a common allergic condition in the upper respiratory system that can cause a cough. According to the American Lung Association, hay fever can have symptoms similar to those of the common cold, such as dry cough, runny nose, and sneezing.
If a person is continuously exposed to an allergy trigger, they may develop a postnasal drip. This is due to extra mucus that forms in the nasal passage as a reaction to allergens. As this mucus drains into the throat, it can cause a dry cough to develop.
Lower respiratory system
In the lower respiratory system, allergic asthma occurs when allergens trigger asthma symptoms. It is the most common form of asthma.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America lists the following asthma symptoms:
- chest tightness
- shortness of breath
- rapid breathing
The organization says that only a medical professional can diagnose allergic asthma. If a person is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should contact a doctor for evaluation and testing.
Learn more about asthma and allergies here.
Some ways to treat an allergy cough at home include:
- Taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications: Allergy medicines, such as antihistamines, nasal sprays, and decongestants, can help reduce the inflammation and mucus production that can lead to a cough.
- Using a humidifier or inhaling steam from a shower: Humidifiers can help clear congestion and soothe throat irritation.
- Using an air purifier: A high-quality air purifier can help reduce the number of allergens and irritants in the air inside a person’s home or office space.
- Taking prescription medications: Nasal sprays and antihistamines can help alleviate an allergic cough affecting the upper respiratory tract. Inhalers (e.g., albuterol) are usually needed to treat an allergic cough affecting the lower airways.
Learn additional home remedies for all types of cough here.
It is often possible to manage an allergy cough with home treatment. However, people should speak with a healthcare professional if their symptoms include:
- coughing that lasts longer than 3 weeks
- coughing that does not improve after using home remedies or taking OTC medications
- chest pain or tightness
- difficulty breathing
- unexpected weight loss
- a general sense of feeling very sick
- swelling around the sides of your neck
People should also seek prompt medical attention if they experience a cough along with serious symptoms that include:
- difficulty swallowing
- coughing up blood
- fevers that do not go away
- changes in voice
A doctor will determine whether a cough results from allergies or if there is another cause.
Learn more about how doctors diagnose allergies here.
Comparing possible causes of cough
People with allergies may mistake them for another condition or vice versa. While some symptoms, such as a cough, may be the same across different conditions, many are different. However, it is essential to note that it is possible to have more than one condition at the same time.
If a person experiences any of the symptoms below along with a cough, they should contact a healthcare professional to receive an accurate diagnosis and find effective treatments.
|What it could be||If a person has a cough plus:|
|Allergies||a runny or blocked nose
itchy or watery eyes
shortness of breath
|Asthma||shortness of breath
tight feeling in the chest
worsening of cough when laughing or exercising
|Cold and flu||fever
general aches and pains
fatigue or weakness
loss of taste or smell
discolored fingers or toes
red or irritated eyes
A cough is a natural bodily function that helps keep people healthy and their airways free from irritants. Sometimes, a cough can be due to an underlying condition, such as allergies. Allergies can cause a number of other symptoms, and many other conditions can also cause a cough to develop.
When diagnosing a cough, it is important to know the exact cause, so doctors can treat it effectively. Often, home remedies will be enough to treat a cough, but some symptoms mean a person should contact a healthcare professional for further treatment.