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can allergies cause itchy throat

Can Allergies Cause an Itchy, Sore Throat?

By Mallory Logsdon, PA-C Published on Jul 04, 2024
Table of Contents
    Key Takeaways
    • Itchy, sore throats can be triggered by exposure to allergens.
    • Allergic reactions may include other symptoms like runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes.
    • Seek medical help if symptoms persist or worsen despite initial treatments.

    Having an itchy, sore throat can be quite uncomfortable and it can impact daily activities and sleeping. This discomfort often leads individuals to look for instant relief through soothing drinks and lozenges.

    It’s important to try to find out the cause of an itchy, sore throat to receive tailored treatment. Allergies could be one possible cause, especially in those with a family history or who are repeatedly exposed to allergens [*].

    This article explains whether allergies are contributing to your symptoms, how this might happen, other symptoms to note, and management strategies.

    Can Allergies Cause an Itchy, Sore Throat?

    An itchy throat from allergies (called “palatal itching”) is possible. Being exposed to an allergen, such as pollen or pet dander (skin shed by cats, dogs, or rodents) can trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals [*]. The inflammation and irritation of the mucous membranes in the throat may then result in an intensely itchy sensation, which can also be felt deep in the ears as well.

    Additionally, allergies can contribute to post-nasal drip, where excess mucus from the nasal passages drips down the back of the throat [*]. This excess mucus can cause discomfort and a persistent urge to clear the throat.

    In some cases, the combination of post-nasal drip and throat irritation can also lead to soreness—which adds to the overall discomfort experienced by allergy sufferers.

    Other Symptoms Indicating Itchy Throat is Due to Allergies

    Understanding and addressing the full range of allergic symptoms allows for better management.

    An itchy, sore throat from allergies may also be accompanied by the following symptoms:

    • Runny nose
    • Itchy and watery eyes
    • Sneezing
    • Postnasal drip (mucus accumulation at the back of the throat)
    • Coughing
    • Nasal congestion
    • Fatigue

    Remember to keep track of your symptoms and any patterns you notice. You might also want to try identifying specific allergens that may be causing your symptoms.

    What Allergens Commonly Trigger an Itchy, Sore Throat?

    Several common allergens can trigger a itchy throat, and they can be present at different times and in various locations. These allergens may include:

    • Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds (they tend to be seasonal)
    • Dust mites
    • Pet dander
    • Mold (this thrives in damp environments, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and basements)
    • Insect droppings

    Identifying specific allergens through testing, such as skin prick tests or blood tests measuring specific IgE antibodies, can help manage exposure and reduce symptoms.

    Other Causes of Itchy, Sore Throat

    Besides allergies, sore and itchy throat can be caused by several other conditions, including:

    • Viral Infections. Common cold viruses (such as rhinovirus or coronavirus), influenza (flu), and other respiratory viruses can irritate the throat, leading to soreness and itchiness. Research shows that viruses are responsible for 85% to 95% of adult sore throats [*].
    • Bacterial Infections. Streptococcus bacteria (group A Streptococcus) are the most common bacterial cause of a sore throat, leading to a condition called strep throat. When left untreated, bacterial throat infections can lead to complications like rheumatic fever [*].
    • Dry Air. Dry air, whether from heating systems, air conditioning, or low-humidity environments, can cause the mucous membranes in the throat to become dried out. This drying effect can lead to irritation, inflammation, and a scratchy or itchy sensation in the throat.
    • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). GERD is a condition where stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. The acid reflux from the stomach can also irritate the throat lining, leading to soreness and discomfort.
    • Environmental Irritants. Exposure to smoke, chemicals, pollutants, and strong odors can irritate the throat and cause symptoms similar to allergy-induced throat itchiness.

    Treatment and Remedies for Itchy, Sore Throat from Allergies

    Interventions for an itchy throat caused by allergies typically involve a combination of strategies to relieve symptoms and minimize exposure to allergens.

    Here are some effective approaches to consider:

    Antihistamines

    Antihistamines are a class of drugs that help treat symptoms caused by an allergic reaction by blocking the effects of histamine, a chemical released by your immune system [*]. This results in reduced inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses, thereby alleviating symptoms that contribute to throat itchiness due to allergies.

    There are two main types of antihistamines: first-generation and second-generation. The main difference is their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, which can influence their side effects.

    Antihistamines are available in both over-the-counter and prescription forms and can provide effective relief when used as directed.

    Nasal Sprays

    Nasal sprays can help alleviate itchy throat symptoms related to allergies by addressing the underlying inflammation. They’re easy to use and can be administered directly into the nasal passages, which offers quick relief to patients, often within minutes.

    Examples of nasal sprays include nasal corticosteroids such as Nasacort (triamcinolone), Flonase (fluticisone), Rhinocort (budesonide), Nasonex (mometasone) among others, as well as azelastine, Patanase and ipratropium. Personalized nasal sprays like Allermi offer a custom combinations of up to 4 active ingredients to control symptoms of rhinitis both over the short and long term, while being safe for daily use.

    Although nasal sprays generally have fewer side effects compared to oral medications (since they have less systemic absorption) proper technique is important to ensure optimal effectiveness.

    Related: Nasal Sprays for Allergies

    Lozenges

    Lozenges are solid medications designed to be dissolved or disintegrated slowly in the mouth. They typically contain one or more active ingredients, such as antiseptics, pain relievers, and soothing compounds that offer temporary relief from throat itchiness or soreness.

    While lozenges do not treat the underlying allergy itself, they can provide symptomatic relief by moisturizing the throat and reducing irritation.

    It's important to use lozenges as directed for proper dosage and frequency. Overuse of lozenges can sometimes lead to stomach upset or other side effects.

    Proper hydration

    Adequate hydration helps keep the mucous membranes in the throat moist, which can reduce dryness and irritation. Additionally, it can boost immune health, which is important for managing allergic reactions [*].

    Drink water regularly throughout the day, and limit caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and acidic drinks, as they can exacerbate dehydration and worsen dry throat symptoms.

    Humidifiers

    Humidifiers can help with a dry throat by adding moisture to the air, which helps to alleviate discomfort.

    Allergies often exacerbate symptoms in dry environments, especially during winter or in air-conditioned spaces, where indoor air can become particularly dry. By increasing humidity, humidifiers help to maintain optimal moisture levels.

    When using humidifiers, individuals should maintain a regular cleaning routine as dirty humidifiers can harbor bacteria and fungi, which can be released into the air and exacerbate allergy symptoms.

    Gargling salt water

    Salt water has mild antiseptic properties that can help to reduce inflammation, hydrate, and wash away allergens or irritants that may be lingering in the throat.

    While it doesn't treat the underlying allergy, gargling salt water can be a simple and effective home remedy to alleviate the itchy, sore sensation and provide symptomatic relief during flare-ups.

    How Long Does Itchy Throat from Allergies Last?

    The duration of an itchy throat from allergies can vary widely depending on individual sensitivity, allergen exposure, and treatment effectiveness.

    In general, if allergens are consistently present or seasonal, symptoms like an itchy throat may persist as long as exposure continues. With appropriate treatment such as antihistamines, nasal sprays, and allergen avoidance measures, symptoms can often resolve within a few hours to days.

    However, without treatment or if allergen exposure continues, symptoms may persist or recur intermittently throughout the allergy season or exposure period.

    When to See a Doctor for an Itchy Throat

    It is advisable to see a doctor for an itchy, sore throat if the symptoms persist despite over-the-counter treatments, worsen over time, or are accompanied by severe throat pain, difficulty in swallowing, fever, or swollen glands.

    Additionally, if there is a history of severe allergies, asthma, or anaphylaxis, prompt medical evaluation is recommended to assess the need for prescription medications, further testing, or specialized treatment.

    The Bottom Line

    Recognizing the possibility of allergies as a cause of an itchy, sore throat is important, as it allows for targeted management strategies. Managing allergies can also help prevent complications while allowing individuals to live more comfortably all year round.

    References:

    1. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). (2023, August 8). Overview: Allergies. InformedHealth.org - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK447112/
    2. Professional, C. C. M. (n.d.). Postnasal drip. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/23082-postnasal-drip
    3. Worrall, G. J. (2007). Acute sore throat. Canadian Family Physician, 53(11), 1961-1962. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2231494/
    4. Strep throat - Symptoms & causes - Mayo Clinic. (2022, November 30). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/strep-throat/symptoms-causes/syc-20350338
    5. Farzam, K., Sabir, S., & O’Rourke, M. C. (2023, July 10). Antihistamines. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538188/
    6. Professional, C. C. M. (n.d.-a). Nasal decongestant. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/24923-nasal-decongestant
    7. Clinic, C. (2024, May 13). 5 vitamins that are best for boosting your immunity. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/vitamins-best-boosting-immunity
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