When you wake up with a scratchy, sore throat, it’s hard to tell if you’re gotten sick, or seasonal allergies are the cause. If you’ve got a viral or bacterial infection, a sore throat usually comes with other symptoms.
In this article, I’ll talk about common symptoms of allergies, how to deal with sore throats from allergies, and how to know if it’s something more.
Why Allergies May Cause Sore Throat
Seasonal allergies can influence mucus production in the sinuses, which can lead to postnasal drip. This constant trickle of mucus can lead to irritation and inflammation of the lining of the throat, leading to mild and consistent feelings of soreness.
How to tell if it’s an infection or allergies
There are a few ways to distinguish between seasonal allergy reactions and an infection.
Some differences between seasonal allergies and an infection include:
- Seasonal allergies: May include symptoms like sore throat, congestion, sneezing, and headache. Red, itchy, irritated eyes are also common symptoms associated with seasonal allergies.
- Infection: If your symptoms include a fever, it is an infection. Seasonal allergies never cause fevers, though they may increase the chance of developing a sinus infection.
They can run basic tests to rule out influenza, COVID-19, and other types of bacterial infections.
Symptoms of Allergies
Seasonal allergies have significant symptom overlap with contagious illnesses like the flu, the common cold, and COVID-19.
It’s not always easy to tell what you have by symptoms alone, but understanding all of the possible symptoms of seasonal allergies can help.
Common symptoms of seasonal allergies can include:
It is possible to develop a mild, persistent cough as a result of irritation from postnasal drip.
But a cough on its own—or a cough that is loud, hacking, or gets worse—is not a seasonal allergy symptom. If you have a fever, muscle pain, joint pain, or diarrhea, it is most likely an infection. These are not signs of seasonal allergies.
Causes of Allergies
Seasonal allergies are caused by the immune system having a negative reaction to something that triggers or activates it. In the case of seasonal allergens, the immune system produces histamine when exposed to them.
This causes symptoms like itching, runny nose, watering eyes, and sneezing. One person’s immune system can respond to seasonal allergies differently than someone else’s.
This is because the immune system forms its own memory about triggers and irritations. Most seasonal allergies appear in childhood and adolescence, but adults can develop new allergies, too.
Seasonal or environmental allergies can have both indoor and outdoor causes, like:
- Pollen from any type of plant (weeds, grass, trees, other plants)
- Pet dander or pet hair
- Dust and dust mites
- Rodent dander
A person can be allergic to multiple types of pollen, or just one type. If you are sensitive to most pollen types, it can feel like seasonal allergies last most of the year, since plants and trees pollinate at different times of the year.
Seasonal allergies are also affected by where you live, since warmer climates may have longer pollination seasons. You can also be allergic to certain trees, plants, or flowers that are common in some areas and don’t exist in others.
Tips for Relieving a Sore Throat
If you have a sore throat from postnasal drip and seasonal allergies, taking cold medication aimed at helping sore throats won’t work.
To find relief from a sore throat caused by seasonal allergies, consider the following.
Gargle salt water
Salt water won’t fix postnasal drip, but it can soothe sore throats by loosening mucus and reducing inflammation. Mix one half-teaspoon of salt with eight ounces of warm (not hot) water. Gargle at the back of the throat. Repeat 2-3 times a day as needed.
While many lozenges are aimed at sore throats from infections, if your throat is irritated and sore, sucking on a lozenge can help to keep it moist and soothe general inflammation.
Honey is a soothing substance that can coat the throat and help to relieve inflammation and irritation from mucus. Combine two tablespoons of honey with warm water or tea and drink.
Repeat a few times a day as needed. You can also find lozenges that contain honey.
Hydration helps to keep the mucus in your body thinner, which can ease discomfort associated with postnasal drip. Drink water and fluids throughout the day to support consistent hydration.
Turn on the humidifier
Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which can help to soothe a sore throat that is irritated from postnasal drip. You can run a humidifier in a place where you spend most of your day or in your room at night while you sleep.
Take a hot shower
If you don’t have a humidifier, taking a hot shower can have the same effect.
Adding steam to your nasal passages may provide relief from postnasal drip irritation and help you feel better, at least for a little while.
Tips for Coping with Seasonal Allergies
Allergy season is not fun, but there are some things you can do to reduce your symptoms and make it easier to function.
Reduce exposure to allergy triggers
If you know what you are allergic to, try to minimize how often you are in environments where you are exposed. If you are allergic to pollen, stay inside and keep windows closed when pollen counts are high.
By decreasing the volume of allergens you are exposed to, you may lessen your symptoms.
Take extra steps when pollen counts are high
In addition to staying indoors with the windows closed, you can also install HEPA air filters in your home or use an air purifier.
If you live in an area with a lot of trees or grass and have a high exposure to pollen, filtering the indoor air you are breathing may help reduce symptoms.
Rinse your sinuses
If you cannot minimize your exposure to seasonal allergens, using a neti pot at the end of the day to clear out pollen or other allergen contaminants can decrease your body’s histamine production in response.
This could help reduce postnasal drip, itching, sneezing, and other allergy-related irritation.
Taking over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines can reduce allergy symptoms and may reduce sore throat associated with postnasal drip.
Antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine (Claritin) can all be taken daily to help control symptoms.
If you already take other medications or have certain health conditions like high blood pressure, liver disease, or kidney disease, check with your doctor before taking OTC allergy medications. Decongestant medications can sometimes raise blood pressure or interact with other medications or conditions.
Medications for seasonal allergies
If OTC medications for seasonal allergies do not provide relief, a medical provider can prescribe nasal sprays, allergy shots, or other prescriptions that may be more effective.
See your doctor if allergy symptoms are making it challenging to function, or if you have a sore throat that worsens or does not improve.
When to See a Medical Provider
Seasonal allergies are common for many people. Even if you know your sore throat or other symptoms are caused by allergies, you don’t have to live with discomfort.
A medical provider can identify medications that may provide relief.
If you have a sore throat and are not sure it’s caused by allergies, a medical provider can perform an examination and run tests to help pinpoint the cause and make sure you get the care you need.
If you have allergy symptoms, but at any time develop the following, seek medical care:
- Worsening symptoms
- Dizziness or balance problems
- Severe headaches
- Yellow or green nasal discharge
- Ringing in the ears
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Problems being able to swallow or talk
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