How to figure out if allergy season is causing your throat woes, or if something else is at play.

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Allergy season is in full effect, and if you tend to suffer from them, you know that there's nothing pleasant about the sneezing, stuffy nose, and itchy or watery eyes that come with them.

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Credit: AdobeStock

Of course, those aren't the only three symptoms that can accompany allergies-some allergy sufferers may also find that they experience a sore throat as well. But it can be tricky to figure out if you're dealing with a sore throat from allergies or from a cold or virus. Here's what experts want you to know.

Can allergies cause a sore throat?

So, the short answer here is yes, Evan Li, MD, an allergist and assistant professor of medicine specializing in immunology, allergy and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Health. A sore throat can be from a direct inflammatory effect of allergens on the back of your throat, from mucus draining down into your throat, or from the irritating effect of coughing.

Sneezing, congestion, itchy eyes and nose, and runny nose are the most common symptoms associated with seasonal allergies, Kelly Simpson, MD, an allergist at Austin Regional Clinic in Austin, Texas, tells Health. But sore throat can also be added to that list, often caused by what's referred to as "postnasal drip." This is when increased mucus in the nasal passages drips down the back of the throat. As it drips down, it irritates the throat. 

"Postnasal drip, other than causing sore throat, can also cause the sensation of something getting stuck in your throat, tickling or itching in the back of your throat and also irritation that leads to cough," Dr. Li says.

No one allergen is more prone to causing sore throat than others, but the more potent the allergen, the more likely it is to cause symptoms of allergies overall, Dr. Li says. Some of the most potent allergens are grasses, ragweed, dust mites and cat dander. 

How can you tell if your sore throat is from allergies-or something else?

Sore throat, especially during the winter months, can also signal a cold or a virus, making it hard to tell what you're dealing with. It can be difficult to differentiate between a cold and allergies, but the best way to differentiate between the two would be length of symptoms and past history of allergies, Dr. Li says. 

"Both allergies and the seasonal cold can cause runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing, watery eyes and cough," he says. "However, cold symptoms typically last only a few days while allergy symptoms will often last several weeks to months." 

Allergy symptoms also typically flare up during the spring, summer and fall seasons, while colds usually come during the winter times, Dr. Li says. (The exception to this is mountain cedar allergy, which typically flares in the winter time.) Allergy symptoms are also more responsive to oral antihistamine and nasal steroids while cold symptoms typically are more resistant to these types of treatments. Lastly, colds or viruses that can cause sore throat will usually will present with more fevers and body aches than allergies will. 

Certain symptoms, such as runny nose or itchy, watery eyes, are more common with allergies than a cold, Dr. Simpson adds. If you're also experiencing aches and pains or a fever, you most likely have a cold or virus. Thick yellow mucus is often more typical of a cold or virus. 

"Allergic reactions are different for everyone," Dr. Simpson says. "One person may suffer severe wheezing/asthma triggered by allergies and mucus build-up (leading to a sore throat) when around cedar trees, while another person may only suffer itchy eyes/nose or stuffy nose."

How can you treat a sore throat from allergies?

Regardless of what your allergy symptoms are, Dr. Li recommends a combination of an oral antihistamine with a nasal steroid at least 1-2 times per day during your worst allergy season. Commonly available allergy antihistamines include Zyrtec, Allegra, Claritin, Clarinex or Xyzal, while commonly used nasal steroids are Flonase, Nasonex, Nasacort, Rhinocort or Qnasl. 

"If you still have a sore throat while taking a combination of an oral antihistamine and a nasal steroid, allergists will sometimes add a nasal antihistamine such as Astelin," he says. "[Acetaminophen or ibuprofen] taken every six to eight hours as needed can be used in severe cases, but should only be used for several days at a time." 

For mild cases, a saline spray may be enough, but if these are ineffective and your allergies are making you miserable, you can talk to your doctor about trying immunotherapy in the form of shots of sublingual drops (drops under the tongue), Dr. Simpson says.

If your sore throat is from drainage of mucus down your throat, you can also try nasal rinses, Dr. Li says. Popular nasal rinse products include Neil Med and the Navage device. 

"If your sore throat is very severe, your allergist may prescribe oral steroids such as prednisone or Medrol to help reduce the inflammation that is causing your sore throat," he says. "Non-medical therapies such as salt water gargles or tea with honey and lemon may also work for certain individuals, but generally are not as effective as medications."

Prevention is key as well, Dr. Simpson says. If you know what you're allergic to, try to stay away from it. Keep your home as free of dust as possible and change the filters in your heating and air conditioning system regularly. During the time of year when your allergies are the worst, close your windows to keep the allergen out. Similarly, if you've been outside for extended periods, change your clothes when you enter your house, and take a shower every night before going to bed.

And overall, if you're unsure about what you're dealing with-either a sore throat from allergies or from a cold or virus, talk to your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis, as well as the most appropriate treatment plan.

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