Coughing Fit or Allergy Attack? Understanding the Difference

by | Jul 2, 2024 | Health

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a coughing marathon and wondered, “Is this just a random cough, or am I dealing with allergies here?” 

Getting the lowdown on whether you’re dealing with a coughing fit or an allergy attack can be a game-changer for your health and help you find the best fix-it strategy to start feeling like your fabulous self again.

READ MORE: Unlocking Winter Wellness: How Your Mindset Can Keep You Healthy Through Cold and Flu Season

What is a Coughing Fit?

Coughing removes mucus, germs, and foreign particles from the respiratory system, which protects the lungs from infection and inflammation1a. A cough starts when you take a deep breath in. Then, the opening to your windpipe quickly closes, trapping the air in your lungs. Your chest and belly muscles then give a big push, but because the air can’t escape yet, it builds up a lot of pressure inside. Finally, the windpipe pops open, and the trapped air zooms out, making the loud cough sound we’re all familiar with1b . Coughing fits aren’t just your run-of-the-mill single coughs that politely excuse themselves after making their point. No, these are the relentless, back-to-back coughs that barely give you a breather in between. Aside from being a nuisance, coughing fits that are frequent and persistent can strain lung tissue2 .

What is an Allergy Attack?

An allergy attack is your body’s version of a mistaken identity crisis. Your immune system, the body’s defence force against harmful invaders like viruses and bacteria, sometimes gets overzealous3a . It mistakes something completely harmless for a dangerous intruder. This misjudgement leads to an all-hands-on-deck response, with your immune system launching a full-scale defence operation. When the immune system swings into action, it releases antibodies to combat the supposed threat, and this is where the fun begins (or, more accurately, where it ends). These antibodies are responsible for symptoms such as sneezing, a runny or congested nose, watery eyes, coughing, itching and other symptoms3b .

Triggers and Causes

Coughing fits and allergy attacks each have their unique set of triggers and causes. When it comes to coughing, the usual suspects include infections like the common cold or flu 4a . Sometimes, other infections such as sinusitis with postnatal drip might be the culprit behind coughing 4b . Environmental irritants like cigarette smoke may also irritate the airways, resulting in coughing 4c .

On the flip side, as mentioned earlier, allergy attacks are often triggered by the body’s reaction to otherwise harmless substances. Certain foods,5a pet dander, 5b dust mites, 5c moulds,5d pollen5f and even cockroaches 5e can be triggers for allergies. If allergies run in your family, there’s a higher chance you might deal with allergies too.5g

Distinguishing Symptoms

While both coughing fits and allergy attacks can involve coughing, the context and accompanying symptoms often help differentiate the two.

If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night because of a severe coughing spell, it might be a sign that you’re catching a cold. Colds can make you have either a moist cough with phlegm or a dry one. However, if you’re dealing with allergies, the cough that comes with it is usually dry. But, there’s a twist if you also have asthma along with your allergies. Your allergies could set off your asthma, leading to a lot of coughing and even wheezing 6a .

If you’re still unsure of whether it’s a coughing fit or allergies, think about when your symptoms started. With allergies, especially those triggered by tree pollen in spring, your symptoms might gradually increase over a few weeks as more pollen gets into the air. On the other hand, cold symptoms usually show up quickly, within just a few days. While a cold might get better in a couple of weeks, allergy symptoms can stick around for the whole season 6b .

When to See a Doctor

Reach out to a health care provider if your coughing continues for more than a few weeks or is accompanied by symptoms such as fever, chest pain, or difficulty catching your breath. Likewise, if allergy symptoms become severe or start to significantly affect your quality of life, professional guidance is essential. 

The Cepacol® range

Beat The Scratch And Soothe Sore Throats With Cepacol®

Cepacol®, renowned for its sore throat lozenges and hot medication, offers a range of solutions for cold and flu symptoms. There’s a Cepacol® option for everyone this winter! With various formulations available, such as lozenges, throat sprays, hot medication, and cough syrups, Cepacol® makes it convenient to find the solution, for your winter needs.

The Cepacol® range includes cough and cold syrup, plus cough and cold syrup specifically designed for nighttime relief, a throat spray and throat gargle, Medsip, a hot medicated drink in either ginger or honey lemon flavours and antibacterial throat lozenges in four great tasting flavours – regular, black current, honey & lemon and menthol.

Adcock Ingram Range

Embrace the Winter Warrior within with the Adcock Ingram Range, featuring brands Panado®, Cepacol®, Compral®, and ViralGuard™, available from Pick n Pay, Checkers including Hypers, Shoprite, Clicks, Dis-Chem, and Independent Pharmacies. For more information about Adcock Ingram Winter Warriors, visit For more information about Cepacol®, visit and join the conversation on Facebook.  



For full prescribing information refer to the Professional Information approved by SAHPRA. Adcock Ingram Limited. Co. Reg. No.: 1949/034385/06. Private Bag X69, Bryanston, 2021, South Africa. Customer Care: 0860 ADCOCK / 232625. 20240229105528. February 2024.

**MH Partnership

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