“This is a very common complaint,” says Catherine Monteleone, M.D., an allergist-immunologist and professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “Seasonal allergies can make you feel less energized.”
But why can allergies make you feel so tired? And is there anything you can do to fight the fatigue? Here’s everything you need to know.
What causes allergies, anyway?
An allergic reaction is a chain reaction that starts in your genes and is expressed by your immune system, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).
When you have an allergy to something, like pollen or grass, your immune system views it as an invader (a.k.a. the allergen). It then overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE), which travel to cells that release chemicals called histamines, Dr. Monteleone explains. Cue the stuffy nose, coughing, sneezing, and other uncomfortable symptoms.
So, why do allergies make you tired?
There are actually a few potential reasons why your allergies are wiping you out. And, when combined, they can lead to some serious fatigue.
✔️ You’re not breathing well.
When this happens, you’re not getting oxygen as easily, and your body has to work a little harder to operate normally, which can wear you out, says Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network.
✔️ The immune response is tough on your body.
Allergies cause bodily inflammation, and “when your immune system is inflamed, your body uses up a fair amount of energy and resources to make an immune response,” says Kara Wada, M.D., an allergist and immunologist at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. Plus, when you’re having an allergic reaction and histamines are released, that can make you feel tired, notes Dr. Monteleone.
✔️ You’re having trouble sleeping.
Seasonal allergies tend to cause nasal congestion, and that disturbs your ability to get a good night’s rest, says Dr. Monteleone.
✔️ Your medication is wiping you out.
Certain allergy medications, including first-generation antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can make you feel tired, says Stanley Schwartz, M.D., Ph.D., division chief of Allergy-Immunology-Rheumatology at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“Antihistamines block the receptors for histamine in the body, and there is a receptor for histamine in the brain that keeps you alert,” he explains. When certain antihistamines reach your brain, they can make you feel sleepy as a result. That’s why Dr. Monteleone says she often encourages patients to use second-generation antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec). “They’re non-sedating and tend to have less of that fatigue-causing property,” she says.
How to treat allergy-related fatigue
Step one is getting to the source of what’s causing your allergies in the first place. An allergist can help you do just that. “He or she can perform allergy testing by skin testing or by blood work to help identify any allergy triggers,” says Patricia Takach, M.D., an allergist and immunologist with Penn Medicine.
Once you know what’s triggering an allergic reaction, do your best to avoid those substances, says David Corry, M.D., professor of medicine in immunology, allergy, and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine. That means taking steps like staying indoors on high pollen count days and making a few lifestyle changes such as showering when you come indoors, cleaning your sheets regularly, and keeping pets—who can carry things like pollen and grass—out of your bed. Wearing a face mask when you’re outdoors can also help filter out pollen and other allergens that may be irritating.
It’s also a good idea to consider taking an allergy medication. “This is especially important if you are feeling any breathing symptoms at all—coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath—as this is dangerous if left untreated,” says Dr. Takach. An allergist can help determine the right medication for you.
If you are already on an allergy medication, and fatigue is listed as a possible side effect, talk to your doctor about using a nasal steroid spray (like Flonase) instead. “It helps nasal congestion and does not cause fatigue,” Dr. Monteleone says. A salt water rinse, which is not medicated, may also help with symptoms.
And while it won’t help your allergies and allergy-related tiredness right now, immunotherapy (i.e. allergy shots) may be good to look into if you notice you’re struggling with this every season, Dr. Takech says. These injections help make you less allergic over time rather than just suppressing your symptoms.
The bottom line: If you’re struggling with allergy-related fatigue and you can’t seem to get relief on your own, talk to your doctor about your options. They should be able to find the best treatment plan to boost your energy again.
Go here to join Prevention Premium (our best value, all-access plan), subscribe to the magazine, or get digital-only access.
You Might Also Like