Can Allergies Cause a Sore Throat? Here’s What Doctors Say
A sore throat can mean a lot of things. Doctors reveal that this time of year, this uncomfortable symptom often indicates something specific...
A sore throat is a common symptom and can be the result of having too much fun—at a ballgame or concert, for example—or it can be the result of something more serious, like streptococcal bacteria, the cause of strep throat. (Which, if you know you know…is decidedly not fun.)
In between those factors, there’s a range of possibilities that cause a sore throat. One of these is seasonal allergies. Allergies are not uncommon—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31.8% of Americans have some sort of allergy and 25.7% suffer from seasonal allergies.
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Can allergies cause a sore throat?
David Berger, MD, board-certified pediatrician and founder of Dr. David MD explains that a common allergy symptom is nasal congestion and discharge, and the discharge can flow both ways.
If it flows forward, you get a runny nose. If it flows backward, you get a postnasal drip which can lead to a sore throat. “Mucus in the throat can be irritating and can cause a sore throat,” Dr. Berger says. “When allergies are present, on examining the throat, not only is a postnasal drip often seen, but the throat may also appear raw and irritated,” he explains. “Sometimes we see ‘cobblestoning’ on the back of the throat, which is blister-like protrusions filled with serous fluid that can also be painful.”
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Why do allergies cause a sore throat?
“Allergies can cause a release of histamine, which creates increased swelling and fluid in the tissues of the sinuses and nasal cavity,” explains Jill Carnahan, MD, a functional medicine doctor in Colorado. Dr. Carnahan explains that postnasal drip causing irritation of the throat, which can lead to throat clearing and even a sore throat.
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How do we know if it’s a sore throat from allergies or something else?
When sore throat became a symptom of the COVID-19, some of us wondered if we’d pass on the symptom. “With allergies from result from exposure to allergens—such as dog, cat, pollen, mold or dust—the irritation will often be worse in the morning and improve throughout the day,” explains David Morris, MD, Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Dayton Children’s Hospital. “In contrast, sore throat from infection often continues throughout the day.”
Purvi Parikh, MD, FACP, FACAAI, adult and pediatric allergist and immunologist, Professor at New York University School of Medicine, and National Spokeswoman for the Allergy & Asthma Network says that it often depends on how long the symptoms last. “If it lasts for many weeks and occurs every year at same time, or year-round daily, and is associated with nasal congestion; sneezing; and itchy, watery eyes, it’s likely allergies,” Parikh says.
Dr. Parikh points out that with infection, the sore throat usually comes on quick, lasts a week to 10 days, and is often accompanied by fevers over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, fatigue, and muscle aches. “The only foolproof way to be sure is to be tested for infections such as COVID, flu and strep throat to rule them out,” Dr. Parikh says.
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How do we treat a sore throat from allergies?
“It’s necessary to properly treat the allergies themselves to prevent the sore throat from occurring,” Dr. Berger says. “Throat lozenges and oral pain medications can be used to treat symptoms if the pain is bad.” Basically, you want to soothe the discomfort in your throat while also stopping the postnasal drip caused by allergies, which is what’s causing the irritation in your throat.
Dr. Parikh recommends treating the allergies and eliminating the postnasal drip with oral antihistamines that last 24 hours such as Zyrtec, Xyzal, Allegra or Claritin. “Nasal steroid sprays and nasal antihistamine sprays are very effective,” she says. However, you may want to avoid decongestants like Afrin spray and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and any allergy med with the letter D standing along at the end of the name, as this can make allergies worse due to a rebound effect. Dr. Parikh says plain Zyrtec is good, but Zyrtec D is not for long-term use.
In addition to Dr. Parikh’s suggestions, Dr. Morris recommends honey to soothe soreness in the throat. For natural remedies, Dr. Carnahan likes stinging nettles tea to soothe allergy symptoms, and she also recommends Quercetin, which is found in foods such as capers, hot yellow peppers, dill weed and onions, or can be bought as a supplement.
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- David Berger, MD, board-certified pediatrician and founder of Dr. David MD
- Jill Carnahan, MD, Functional Medicine Doctor and author of Unexpected.
- David Morris, MD, Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Dayton Children's Hospital
- Purvi Parikh, MD, FACP, FACAAI, adult and pediatric allergist and immunologist, Professor at New York University School of Medicine, and National Spokeswoman for the Allergy & Asthma Network