You might not think of tiredness or fatigue as an allergy symptom. What probably comes to mind is sneezing, sniffling, itchy nose, and itchy, watery eyes. Fatigue, especially from disrupted sleep, can sometimes be a sign of a more serious underlying problem, like improperly or untreated allergies.
How do allergies cause fatigue?
When you are having significant nasal allergy symptoms, you often sleep poorly. You may not make the connection between your daytime allergy symptoms and your disrupted sleep, but they are frequently associated. Not realizing that the combination can be the cause of your daytime fatigue is too often the case. In addition, chemicals released in your system from your allergies, can exacerbate your fatigue.
Your allergy triggers, called allergens, can cause the release of chemicals in your body called histamines. Histamines help fight your allergies but can also cause swelling of your nasal passage, as well as causing or worsening other uncomfortable allergy symptoms.
The allergy fatigue trap
In order to treat your allergy symptoms, you might use over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medications to counteract your symptoms. Unbeknown to you, many of these medications can cause more sleep problems. Many of these OTC decongestants and some antihistamines, can not only cause, but increase disrupted sleep.
More seriously they may cause other side effects such as daytime drowsiness and reduced hand-eye coordination. This in itself can lead to a greater risk of car accidents, and school & work related injuries. In fact, in many states in the US, the use of some of these medications while driving can be considered a DUI.
Understanding allergy triggers
Not everyone who has allergies experiences the same triggers. If your allergies are seasonal, you might be allergic to a specific tree, grass or weed pollen that triggers your symptoms, but only at a certain time of the year, usually in the warmer months. You might be allergic to mold spores that appear with changes in weather which is why it is often confused with pollen allergies.
Mold can develop both outdoors and indoors due to dampness. Outdoor mold can cause symptoms if you’re mowing grass, raking leaves or out on a sports field. One of the more common allergy-causing molds peaks during early fall. Indoor mold is usually found in damper climates or where there has been a water leak (often unknown). It is more common in older homes, particularly in basements, and even behind old sheetrock.
More than 60 percent of allergy sufferers experience symptoms all year-round. These are called perennial allergies as compared to those caused by pollen, which are called seasonal allergies. Perennial allergies are usually due to an indoor source, such as dust mites, cockroaches, mice, pets and many molds.
If your symptoms are long standing and/or severe, and especially if you are experiencing chronic fatigue, or other significant symptoms, which require the constant use of allergy medications to control and relieve your symptoms, it is most important to know your triggers and help you identify the source of your suffering, so you can try to prevent or at least reduce the allergic reaction and not just treat the symptoms.
How to get tested for allergies causing fatigue
As we have discussed above, both seasonal and year-round allergies can cause fatigue. Getting tested is the first step to feeling better if your allergies are triggered by pollens, animal dander, mold, dust mites, cockroaches, weather changes or possibly something else.
If your fatigue is caused by allergies, the best treatment is to get your allergies under control. Once you have been tested and have identified your allergies, you can work on avoiding triggers and controlling your environment. There are also other non-pharmaceutical and non drowsy medications available today.
Common allergy tests include:
- IgE Blood tests - If you have allergies, your blood will contain certain IgE antibodies that show you’re sensitivity to many possible allergen triggers.
- Skin tests - This involves pricking your skin with a needle to expose you to a small amount of an allergen. If you’re allergic, you’ll develop a raised bump on the area of the allergen prick you are reacting to.
- Physical exam - There are many physical signs of allergies, from skin irritation to nasal and breathing problems. These may help your doctor diagnose your allergies.
Ruling out other causes of fatigue
If your allergy testing is negative or inconclusive, which may be the case as there are many other medical conditions that can cause fatigue, your physician should rule out other potential causes such as:
- Autoimmune disorders (Lupus)
- Chronic infections
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disorder
- Certainly other sleep disorders, especially obstructive sleep apnea
Treating fatigue caused by allergies
1. Limit your exposure to allergens
The best way to fully reduce your allergy symptoms is to decrease your exposure to your known allergy triggers. Once you know which allergens are the cause of your symptoms, you can reduce your exposure to them. For example, if you’re allergic to pollen, you can try to stay indoors on days when pollen counts are high., or if you are very allergic to cats you can try to limit your exposure to them.
You can also check online to find your local pollen report. If you have air-conditioning, you should try to keep your windows closed. The same goes for when you are traveling in a car, keep the air conditioning on. If you do spend a lot of time outside, it is a good idea to change your clothing as soon as you come inside.
There are many examples online on how to reduce your allergen exposure once you have identified your specific trigger(s).
There are many kinds of allergy medications. Some are targeted at specific allergies while others are more generalized and treat many kinds of allergies. The most common medications are antihistamines, which are generally now found OTC or you can experiment with natural antihistamines.
Your best bet if you want to avoid feeling tired and also reduce other annoying allergy symptoms is to take an antihistamine.
As mentioned earlier, be aware that many antihistamines themselves can cause fatigue and drowsiness.
So, if you’re trying to stay awake during the day, it’s best to take an antihistamine labeled as “non-drowsy”. On the flip side, if you have trouble sleeping at night it might help you to take an antihistamine that does cause drowsiness.
These medications might ease your symptoms and also help you sleep. Benadryl is one antihistamine known to cause drowsiness.
Nasal sprays such as an intra-nasal steroid can also treat your allergy symptoms, these are especially helpful for those suffering more with nasal congestion. These are available OTC and in prescription form. These sprays usually don’t cause drowsiness.
But you should always check the label on your prescription to be sure. Be aware that certain specific nasal decongestant sprays may make your nasal congestion worse and should never be used for more than three days, no matter how good it feels initially.
Nasal steroid sprays and antihistamines can be used together, but may cause excessive nasal dryness.
3. Allergy Immunotherapy
This form of treatment involves taking a small amount of an antigen (the specific trigger of your allergy) to counteract the antibodies present in your body to that same specific trigger(s) that you are allergic to, much like a vaccine.
These allergens can be administered by an allergy injection under the skin, usually given weekly in a doctor’s office, or by allergy drops or pills taken daily, at home under the tongue. The use of the latter is now becoming more widespread in the US and is commonly used in Europe and the UK.
Immunotherapy is considered to be the best and strongest type of treatment for allergy symptoms today, as it helps you become less reactive to your allergen triggers. This means less frequent and severe allergic reactions over time, and less medication usage. Allergy immunotherapy can be helpful in reducing fatigue because it provides non-drowsy allergy relief.
Allergies cause sneezing, itchiness, runny nose, nasal congestion and other unpleasant symptoms. Allergies are annoying enough without fatigue thrown in. One or all these symptoms often make it hard to get a good night’s sleep, leaving you tired or fatigued all day. This can make it hard to function in school, work, and with other daily activities.
The good news is there are many ways to get allergy relief. The first step in finding this relief is discovering your specific trigger(s) by getting tested for allergies so you know the cause of your symptoms. Then you can adopt the specific allergy treatment tailored just for you. From your trigger avoidance, to the right allergy medication and possibly allergy immunotherapy especially tailored to your specific trigger(s).