Itchy throat and ears may be caused by allergies or a cold. Home treatment is usually enough, but if you also have other symptoms like a sore throat, or if your symptoms don’t improve, see a doctor.

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Here are some possible causes, tips for relief, and signals that you should call your doctor.

Allergic rhinitis is better known by its other name: hay fever. It starts when your immune system reacts to something in the environment that isn’t normally harmful.

This includes:

This reaction leads to the release of histamine and other chemical mediators, which trigger allergy symptoms.

In addition to an itchy throat and itchy ears, allergic rhinitis can cause these symptoms:

According to research, an estimated 7.6 percent of children and 10.8 percent of adults in the United States have food allergies.

Like seasonal allergies, food allergies arise when the immune system goes into overdrive when exposed to an allergen, such as peanuts or eggs. Food allergy symptoms range from mild to severe.

Common food allergy symptoms include:

Some allergies are severe enough to cause a life threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

If you think you’re having an anaphylactic reaction, call your local emergency services or go to the emergency room immediately.

Common allergens

A few foods account for 90 percent of allergic reactions, including:

Some children outgrow allergies to foods such as eggs, soy, and cow’s milk. Other food allergies, such as peanuts and tree nuts, can stick with you for a lifetime.

Some foods like cow’s milk and wheat commonly cause GI symptoms, while nuts and shellfish allergies tend to present as an itchy throat, swelling, and possible anaphylaxis.

Other triggers

Certain fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts contain a protein that’s similar to the allergens in pollen. If you’re allergic to pollen, these foods can cause a reaction called oral allergy syndrome (OAS).

Some of these common trigger foods include:

In addition to an itchy mouth, symptoms of OAS can include:

  • a scratchy throat
  • swelling of the mouth, tongue, and throat
  • itchy ears

Many drugs can cause side effects, but only about 5 to 10 percent of reactions to medications are true allergies.

Just like other types of allergies, drug allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a substance in the same way it would to germs. In this case, the substance happens to be a medication.

Most allergic reactions happen within a few hours to days after you take the medication.

Symptoms of a drug allergy include:

A severe drug allergy can cause anaphylaxis, with symptoms like:

  • hives
  • swelling of your face or throat
  • wheezing
  • dizziness
  • shock

Call your doctor if you have symptoms of a drug allergy. If you do have an allergy, you may need to discontinue use of the medication.

If you think you’re having an anaphylactic reaction, call your local emergency services or go to an emergency room immediately.

Colds are one of the most common afflictions. Most adults sneeze and cough their way through two or three colds a year.

Many different viruses cause colds. They spread when someone with an infection coughs or sneezes droplets containing the virus into the air.

Colds aren’t serious, but they can be annoying. They’ll usually sideline you for a few days with symptoms like these:

If you have mild allergy or cold symptoms, you can treat them yourself with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, decongestants, nasal sprays, and antihistamines.

Popular antihistamines include:

To relieve the itch, try an oral or a cream antihistamine. Oral antihistamines are more common, but the same brands often offer topical formulas.

For lingering or more severe symptoms, call your doctor.

Here’s a rundown of treatments by condition.

If you have allergic rhinitis

An allergist can perform a skin or blood test to find out which substances set off your symptoms.

You can prevent symptoms by staying away from your triggers. Here are several tips:

  • For people allergic to dust mites, put a dust mite-proof cover on your bed. Wash your sheets and other linens in hot water — above 130°F (54.4°C). Vacuum upholstered furniture, carpets, and curtains.
  • Stay indoors when pollen counts are high. Keep your windows closed and your air conditioning on.
  • Don’t smoke and stay far away from anyone who’s smoking.
  • Don’t allow your pets in your bedroom.
  • Keep the humidity in your home set at or below 50 percent to discourage mold growth. Clean any mold you do find with a mixture of water and chlorine bleach.

You can manage allergy symptoms with OTC antihistamines, such as loratadine (Claritin), or decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).

Decongestants are available as pills, eye drops, and nasal sprays, but you should avoid using nasal sprays for more than 3 days at a time to prevent rebound congestion.

Nasal steroids, like fluticasone (Flonase), are also extremely effective and now available over the counter.

If allergy medications aren’t strong enough, see an allergist. They may recommend shots, which gradually stop your body from reacting to an allergen, or sublingual immunotherapy, which come in tablet or liquid form.

If you have food allergies

If you often react to certain foods, see an allergist. Skin prick tests or radioallergosorbent (RAST) blood testing can confirm what’s triggering your allergies.

Once you’ve identified the food in question, you’ll want to avoid it. Check the ingredient list of every food you buy.

If you have a severe allergy to any food, carry around an epinephrine auto-injector, such as an EpiPen, in case of a severe reaction.

If you have drug allergies

Call your doctor if you have symptoms of a drug allergy. Your doctor might suggest that you cease taking the medication.

Get medical help right away for symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as:

  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • swelling of your face or throat

If you have a cold

No cure for the common cold exists, but you can relieve some of your symptoms with:

  • OTC pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil)
  • decongestant pills, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), or decongestant nasal sprays
  • combination cold medications, such as dextromethorphan (Delsym)

Most colds will clear up on their own within 7 to 10 days. If your symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, or if they get worse, call your doctor.

Treatments for allergy or cold symptoms

These products may help improve certain symptoms, including an itchy throat or itchy ears. Shop for them online:

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Call your doctor if your symptoms last for more than 10 days or worsen with time. Get medical help immediately for these more serious symptoms:

  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • hives
  • severe headache or sore throat
  • swelling of your face
  • trouble swallowing

Your doctor may perform a blood test or throat swab to find out if you have a bacterial infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics.

If your doctor suspects you have allergies, you may get referred to an allergist for skin and blood tests or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor.