Allergic Cough: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Coughing can be a symptom of allergy, one that can last for weeks. We'll show you everything you need to know about it.
Allergic Cough: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Diego Pereira

Reviewed and approved by el médico Diego Pereira.

Last update: 21 February, 2023

As the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) points out, a chronic cough can be a consequence of allergic processes. A chronic cough is understood to be one that lasts for more than three weeks, in this case in the absence of phlegm or sputum. An allergic cough is a real problem, and one that affects millions of people around the world.

Since coughing is a very common symptom in dozens of conditions, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish it from a cold, bronchitis, pneumonia, gastroesophageal reflux or as a side effect of smoking. There are certain factors that make it possible to differentiate an allergic cough from other triggers. In the following lines, we’ll show you what they are and how to deal with them.

Allergic cough symptoms

Allergic cough has several causes.
Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish an allergic cough from one caused by other conditions, but there are certain special characteristics.

The main characteristic of an allergic cough is that it appears in very precise circumstances. For example, when interacting with certain agents (dust, latex, pet dander, and others) or in the company of other allergy symptoms. A typical picture of allergic cough is characterized by the following:

  • A dry cough, with absence of sputum
  • Irritation, swelling, or itching in the throat cavity
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A feeling of fatigue
  • Stuffy nose (with or without profuse nasal discharge)

Although the cough is often accompanied by other symptoms of allergic processes, the truth is that it can also appear independently of them. It’s also possible for the cough to come two or three weeks after contact with an allergen, so it will seem to be an isolated symptom of it. In moderate or severe cases the signs can cause:

  • Chest tightness
  • Headaches
  • Itchy skin (accompanied by skin rashes)
  • Sweating or cold skin
  • Confusion
  • A sensation that the throat is closing

When these symptoms appear, the patient may be on the verge of anaphylactic shock. This is a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. Fortunately, reactions of this type are not so frequent and most episodes of allergic coughing pass without major inconvenience. Still, people should be aware of these serious symptoms.

An allergic cough is considered when this symptom has gone on for at least 3 weeks. Otherwise, it is considered just an accompanying symptom of an allergic reaction. Each case is different, and so the actual time may be less or more. It’s important that other possible triggers are ruled out, including those mentioned at the beginning.

Causes of an allergic cough

Experts have found that allergic patients show a greater tendency towards coughing. At this point, it’s good to understand what an allergic reaction consists of and how the body reacts to it. In very simple terms, an allergic reaction is an exaggerated response of the immune system to certain foreign substances that come into contact with the body.

These substances are known as allergens, and are characterized by always being harmless. When the allergen enters the body through the mouth, nose, eyes, or ears, they are mistakenly detected by the immune system as potentially dangerous. Thus, it triggers an immune response through antibodies, which bind to mast cells and these, in turn, respond by releasing histamine.

The symptoms of an allergic reaction are a consequence of increased histamine production. Precisely, antihistamines work by blocking their production, which results in the cessation of the reaction. In summary, an allergic cough is a consequence of the interaction with an allergen. These can be medicines, food and environmental agents. We leave you with some.

1. Food allergens

Allergic cough is associated with certain foods.
Some foods commonly cause allergic reactions in people with risk factors.

Most food allergies occur because the immune system is activated by proteins in food. You can develop an allergic cough minutes or hours after eating certain products. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), milk, fish, wheat, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, tree nuts, and soy commonly trigger these reactions.

2. Drugs that cause allergies

Although drug allergies are rare, certain people respond to the interaction with certain drugs in a negative way. The most common is an allergy to penicillin. Researchers estimate that up to 10% of the world population has adverse reactions to it. If you have started a new treatment, it is likely that this has triggered your allergic cough.

3. Environmental agents

Environmental agents include dust, pollen, mites, animal dander, fungal spores, insect feces, animal or insect venom or saliva, latex, certain metals, and ingredients in cosmetics. These are just some of them, as, in practice, patients can manifest allergic reactions to many others.

Allergic cough treatment

An allergic cough is treated by controlling the reaction in the body. You can use over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, humidifiers, inhalers, and more for this. It’s good for the patient to go to an allergist to do an allergen test, so that the direct trigger of this symptom is found.

The answer may lie in your pet’s dander, a prescription medication, or the pollen released by some plants during the seasonal period. Knowing what may be causing the cough is very helpful, as certain lifestyle changes can be applied to reduce the probability of a cough appearing.

An allergy is a very unstable condition; it can get better or worse over time. Moderate and severe cases should be evaluated by a professional periodically, so other types of allergy treatment can be considered. Consult a specialist if your cough is particularly intense and is affecting your well-being in one way or another.

  • Pecova, R., Vrlik, M., & Tatar, M. Cough sensitivity in allergic rhinitis. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology: an Official Journal of the Polish Physiological Society. 2005; 56: 171-178.
  • Warrington, R., & Silviu-Dan, F. Drug allergy. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology. 2011; 7(1): 1-8.

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