Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Are My Allergies Making Me Tired?
Madison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that usually appears weekly on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.
Dear Dr. Gerhart: I have sinus allergies, and the last few weeks have been tough. I'm tired all the time. Is it possible to have fatigue from my allergies?
Dear Reader: A patient of mine recently told me that she thinks she has a history of "allergy fatigue." I was surprised, because I had never really heard of that as a diagnosis. It makes sense - patients with sinus symptoms may feel "sick" like they have a cold or a sinus infection, and therefore may feel more tired. But does your body expend the same amount of energy in killing a virus or a bacteria as it does in reacting to an allergen?
When you have a cold or a sinus infection, there is actually a virus or a bacteria that your body is trying to fight. With allergies however, there usually isn't a living virus or organism in your body that you have to "kill." Even so, your immune system still gets revved up because it sees the allergen as "foreign material." Just as your body sends certain immune cells to fight a sinus infection, it sends other immune cells to fight allergies. For example, for bacterial infections, your body may make more immune cells called neutrophils or lymphocytes. Whereas for allergies, your body may make more immune cells called mast cells or eosinophils.
So do these different immune responses make you equally fatigued? That is difficult to determine, since some infections are minor, just like some allergies are minor. And, in severe cases, both infections and allergic reactions can be deadly. It depends most on what you are allergic to, if it is a seasonal allergy, how severe your reaction is and what treatments/medications or coping mechanisms you have set up.
According to Dr. Clifford Basset, director of the Allergy and Asthma Care Center of NY, "asthma fatigue syndrome" can happen to allergy patients for multiple reasons. First, allergy sufferers often have annoying symptoms at night, so they do not get adequate quantity or quality of sleep. Second, many of the medications used for allergies cause fatigue. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness and decongestants can cause insomnia. Third, the blockage of your nasal passages can cause more difficulty breathing, and cause snoring and "sleep apnea-type" symptoms, again leading to fatigue.
You can help prevent allergy fatigue syndrome by preventing symptoms before they start. First, eliminate or decrease your allergy triggers as much as possible. For outdoor allergens, try to spend time indoors, or take your allergy medications before going outside. Second, get the right medications. Some of the "first line treatments" for seasonal allergies are prescription nasal steroid sprays and anti-allergy eye drops, so see your doctor. Third, if your allergies are severe, consider seeing an allergist. Sometimes there are shots that can help decrease your symptoms or prevent them from getting worse. This can work in up to 85 percent of patients.
This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.
Date Published: 11/13/2013