What is hay fever?

Endless sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, and runny nose — the symptoms of hay fever — may plague you during blooming seasons. Hay fever (also known as seasonal allergies) occurs when your body views certain particles as foreign invaders. These particles are known as allergens and can be anything from pollen to mold spores.

When your body is exposed to allergens, it releases histamines. Histamines are meant to protect you from harm, but they can also cause the allergy symptoms that make some seasons uncomfortable. These symptoms include a frequent cough that has others trying to get away from you for fear of getting sick.

While hay fever and hay fever cough aren’t contagious, they’re uncomfortable and can make you miserable. Keep reading to find out how to treat your cough at home and prevent it from happening again.

Growing seasons cause plants to bloom and molds to multiply, so you’ll usually experience your symptoms at the same time every year. The timing can help you confirm that your symptoms are due to hay fever and not a viral infection.

Symptoms associated with hay fever include:

It’s possible to experience hay fever symptoms year-round, particularly if you’re allergic to something indoors, such as dust mites, cockroaches, mold, or pet dander.

A hay fever cough and other allergy symptoms occur fairly quickly after you’ve been exposed to an allergen that bothers your body. When the allergen is taken away, your symptoms and cough usually go away too.

Seasonal hay fever triggers include:

Year-round triggers for hay fever include:

These allergens set off a chain reaction after they get into your system. A hay fever cough is an aftereffect of postnasal drip.

Postnasal drip occurs when allergens irritate the lining of your nose. This triggers your nasal passages to produce mucus, a sticky substance that’s supposed to remove harmful or dirty particles from the air. Mucus associated with allergens tends to be more watery than the mucus your body produces when you aren’t sick or experiencing allergies. This watery mucus drips out of your nose and down your throat. This “tickles” the throat and leads to a hay fever cough.

This cough usually comes with a constant tickling feeling in the throat. If you’re exposed to your allergen when you’re outdoors, your coughing will most likely be more frequent in the daytime.

However, your cough will generally be worse at night. This effect is largely due to gravity. During the day, you stand and sit up more than at night. Mucus can’t drain as easily at night when you’re lying down.

Asthma is another common cause of a cough. When a person with asthma is exposed to an allergen, the airways can tighten, which causes a wheezing cough. Asthma symptoms include shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.

When you have an infection, the mucus in your body starts to thicken due to the presence of a virus or bacteria. The type of mucus you’re producing can help your doctor tell the difference between a hay fever cough and an infection. If you have thin mucus, as opposed to thick mucus that is difficult to cough up, allergies are usually to blame.

Your doctor will likely ask you about your symptoms as well as what makes them worse or better and when you started noticing them.

A hay fever cough usually isn’t contagious, but it can be uncomfortable and irritate your throat. This causes it to feel scratchy and itchy. There are several ways to deal with a hay fever cough to help you start feeling better.


Medications that dry up the postnasal drip can help. These are known as decongestants, and many are available over the counter. Common decongestant ingredients are pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine.

Another option is to take an antihistamine. This helps block the release of histamines that cause the inflammation in the body. Over-the-counter options often have ingredients like chlorpheniramine or diphenhydramine. Antihistamine eye drops such as ketotifen (Zyrtec) can help with red and itchy eye symptoms.

Alternative treatments

If you don’t want to take medication or if it hasn’t worked for you, home remedies exist, too.

You can try inhaling steam, such as from a hot shower. The warmth helps open up your nasal passages while the moist steam keeps them from drying out.

Saline nose sprays can help wash out the allergens and extra mucus, reducing your cough symptoms. These are available at a drugstore. You can also make your own by following these steps:

  • Add a cup of water to a clean bowl or basin.
  • Add 1/8 teaspoon of table salt.
  • Soak a clean washcloth in the basin.
  • Without wringing out the washcloth, lift it up to your nostril and inhale to take in the saline solution. You can repeat this about three times per day.

If none of these measures work, talk to your doctor about seeing an allergy specialist. An allergist can identify exactly what’s making you sneeze and cough and recommend targeted treatments. Allergy shots are one example, which involve exposure to small parts of a particular allergen to desensitize the body’s reaction.

A hay fever cough is usually caused by postnasal drip. The cough can be treated with medications or home remedies. If you know what allergens make you cough, avoid them whenever possible. Stay indoors on days when pollen counts are high. Changing your clothes and washing your hair and body after being outdoors can also help to reduce hay fever-causing allergens. If at-home remedies aren’t effective, talk to your doctor about other treatment options.