Of all the ways environmental allergies can get you down, a sore throat may take the prize for the most irritating. Sore throats and allergies go together like peanut butter and jelly — if the peanut butter was actually sandpaper and the jelly was flavored with the molecules of a thousand flying pollen spores.
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But fear not, because relief from your allergy-induced sore throat is around the corner.
We talked with allergy specialist Frank J. Eidelman, MD, about why allergies cause sore throats and how you can find relief.
If you’re living with environmental allergies, you probably already know that a sore throat comes with the territory.
But why is that? Why do pet dander, dust mites, pollen and other allergy triggers make your throat burn with the blaze of a hundred suns?
Let’s break it down.
“Allergies are an overreaction of your body to certain stimuli,” Dr. Eidelman explains.
As part of that overreaction, your system produces mucus. A lot of it.
Mucus acts like a trap for allergens, kind of like quicksand. Allergen particles get stuck and can’t get out. So, when you blow your nose, out come the allergens (along with all that yucky goo they’ve been swimming in).
But not all that allergen-filled phlegm gets blown out. It drips down the back of your throat. That’s called postnasal drip, and it leads to swelling in your throat
“Allergies can make the back of your throat swell,” Dr. Eidelman further explains. “In addition, postnasal drip may cause you to frequently clear your throat. That exacerbates inflammation and makes a sore throat worse.”
It’s a vicious cycle. Postnasal drip causes a sore throat. So, you clear your throat and cough to try to get rid of the gunk. All of which makes your throat hurt even more.
Your mission is clear: Break the cycle that leads to sore throats. Your goal is to get rid of the mucus and calm your cough so your throat gets a much-deserved break.
Dr. Eidelman shares a few ways to soothe a sore throat when allergies are wreaking havoc:
If you know what’s causing your allergies, your first course of action is to try to limit your exposure. That probably doesn’t mean you have to avoid all plants and flowers or find a new home for your cat. It means that, when possible, take steps to lower your interaction with your allergens.
If pollen, grass or other outdoor allergens are your enemies:
If you’re allergic to pet dander:
If it’s dust mites that make your throat sore:
Avoiding allergies can only take you so far. You have a life to live after all, so you can’t always stay away from everything that gets your allergies raging.
But when allergies get you down, Dr. Eidelman recommends these home remedies for sore throats:
Increasing your fluid intake can help thin out mucus and move it out of your throat. Drink extra water and try hot fluids, like peppermint tea.
There’s a reason honey is used often in cough drops and other cold relief products. Adding some honey to your beverage (or just swallowing a teaspoon of it straight up) can cut down on mucus. Honey can also help decrease inflammation and irritation in your throat.
Gargling saltwater can reduce the inflammation that makes your throat sore.
Add a teaspoon of salt to warm water. Tip your head back. Open your mouth and make an “ahhhh” sound. The idea is to make the water bubble in your mouth. Try not to swallow it.
Gargling will help clear mucus from your throat, but saline sprays and neti pots can get to the root of the problem. These solutions target the mucus hanging out in your sinuses. They can help clear out the crud in your nasal passages before it has a chance to slide down and irritate your throat. Be sure to follow the instructions for these.
If avoidance and home remedies aren’t doing the trick, it may be time to go the route of medication. The allergy aisle of your local drug store is full of over-the-counter allergy options. Choosing the right one can help relieve your sore throat, itchy eyes and your other allergy woes.
Antihistamine medications work by blocking some of the effects of histamine. They start working in as little as 30 minutes after taking them and can help relieve sneezing, runny nose and itchiness.
Common antihistamines include:
Antihistamines block the effects of allergies at the source. But decongestants like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®) can help take care of the effects. They’re a good choice for some people with nasal congestion.
For maximum impact, you can take an antihistamine and decongestant together, either as a two-in-one medication or as separate tablets. Combined antihistamine-decongestants tend to go by brand names that add the letter “D” at the end of the antihistamine (Claritin-D® or Zyrtec-D®, for example). Or they use words like “cold relief” or “congestion relief.”
Just make sure you don’t mix a combined medication with more decongestants. Too many decongestants can raise your risk of side effects.
Decongestants aren’t for everyone. Dr. Eidelman says they’re not usually recommended for people who have heart conditions or people over the age of 40. People who are pregnant, particularly in the first trimester, should consult their provider before taking decongestants.
Steroid nasal sprays can help relieve congestion, postnasal drip, runny nose and sneezing. Dr. Eidelman calls them “the gold standard for moderate to severe nasal allergies.” And they’re safe for people who should avoid decongestants.
Nasal sprays can be used together with antihistamines. Common choices include:
Nasal sprays don’t work immediately, Dr. Eidelman warns. But unlike decongestant nasal sprays, which can be addictive, steroid nasal sprays are safe to use every day.
Some people can’t take allergy medications. And for others, medications don’t do the trick. In those cases, allergy shots (immunotherapy) can be an option for lasting relief.
“Immunotherapy works by regularly injecting a person with allergies with increasing quantities of allergens. That allows your body to become desensitized,” Dr. Eidelman explains. “It’s not a quick fix, though. Allergy shots need to be performed on a schedule over the course of several years.”
If you wake up regularly with a sore throat and other discomfort consistent with allergies, talk with a healthcare provider. They can perform allergy tests and suggest the best methods for allergy relief.