Can Allergies Cause a Sore Throat? What to Know, According to Experts

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

If you experience seasonal allergies, then you know that there's nothing pleasant about the sneezing, stuffy nose, and itchy or watery eyes that come with them. Of course, those aren't the only four 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 a cold or virus. 

Here's why your allergies can cause a sore throat, how to differentiate it from another sort of illness, and how to feel better.


Can Allergies Cause a Sore Throat?

So, the short answer here is yes, said Evan Li, MD, an allergist and assistant professor of medicine specializing in immunology, allergy, and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. A sore throat can be from mucus draining down into your throat.

Incessant sneezing, congestion, itchy eyes and nose, and runny nose are the most common symptoms associated with seasonal allergies, said Kelly Simpson, MD, an allergist at Austin Regional Clinic in Austin, Texas. 

But sore throat can also be added to that list, often caused by what's referred to as "postnasal drip." That's 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," explained Dr. Li.

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, added Dr. Li. Some of the most potent allergens are grasses, ragweed, dust mites, and cat dander.

Is It an Allergy Sore Throat—or Something Else?

A sore throat, especially in winter, can signal a cold or a virus, making it hard to tell what you're dealing with. 

It can be challenging to differentiate between a cold and allergies. Still, the best way to tell the difference between the two would be the length of symptoms and history of allergies, according to Dr. Li.

How Symptoms Differ

"Allergic reactions are different for everyone," Dr. Simpson said. "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."

The cause of symptoms can also vary. While allergy symptoms are triggered by an allergen (dust, pollen, pets, etc.), a cold or the flu is triggered by a virus.

Allergy symptoms typically flare up during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. At the same time, colds usually come during winter, Dr. Li said. The exception is mountain cedar allergy, which typically flares in the winter.

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

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

How Treatment Differs

Allergy symptoms are treated with oral antihistamines and nasal steroids. In contrast, cold and flu symptoms are typically treated with rest, hydration, decongestants, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Treating a Sore Throat From Allergies

If your sore throat is caused by allergies, you may need antihistamines, steroids, nasal sprays, nasal rinses, and/or pain relievers.

Antihistamines and Steroids

Regardless of your allergy symptoms, Dr. Li recommended a combination of an oral antihistamine with a nasal steroid one to two 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 [azelastine]," explained Dr. Li. 

"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," added Dr. Li.

Nasal Sprays and Rinses

For mild cases, a saline spray may be enough. If your sore throat is from the drainage of mucus down your throat, you can also try nasal rinses, according to Dr. Li. Popular nasal rinse products include Neil Med and the Navage device.

Pain Relievers and Home Remedies

Additionally, as directed by the label, you can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen every six to eight hours. However, according to Dr. Li, that's only for severe cases. You should only use those pain relievers for several days at a time.

"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," said Dr. Li.


Prevention is key as well, Dr. Simpson said. If you know what you're allergic to, try to avoid 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 shower every night before going to bed.

Since pets are a frequent cause of allergies, try to keep them out of the bedroom and wash your hands after petting or coming into contact with a pet.

You can also talk to your healthcare provider about trying immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is when you receive injections of whatever you are allergic to so that over time you become less sensitive to the allergen. Another type of immunotherapy involves giving you a small dose of the allergen under your tongue. This is called sublingual immunotherapy.

A Quick Review

Overall, if you're unsure about what you're dealing with—either a sore throat from allergies or a cold or virus—talk to your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment plan.

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