The ragweed is in bloom or you visited a friend with a cat, and now your allergies are leaving you so exhausted you’re dragging around all day. No, the gravitational force on Earth has not increased. It could be your allergies. But why and how can your allergies make you tired?
When you have an allergic reaction, your body releases proteins called proinflammatory cytokines, which are designed to neutralize invading particles, including allergens like pollen, pet dander, and mold. (Essentially, your body is creating a temporary state of inflammation to fight off the allergens.) Researchers believe that cytokines act on the central nervous system, and prompt leukocytes (white blood cells) and other cells to secrete IL-1 beta (also called interleukin-1-beta), a hormone-like substance that can make you feel lethargic and depress your mood. Perhaps fatigue from the inflammatory process is your body’s way of telling you to rest, so it can fight whatever evil nasty is plaguing your system.
Some research links daytime drowsiness and lethargy to poor nighttime sleep, a complaint from many who suffer from allergies. A stuffy nose, post-nasal drip, and coughing can surely ruin a night’s sleep. Add that to several weeks of bad sleep that you might get during a typical allergy season, and you’re in a state of chronic fatigue. This can lead to other health problems that can worsen fatigue. One study reported that 35% of those suffering with allergic rhinitis struggle with insomnia. A good night’s sleep is vital to feeling refreshed and is vital to help the body heal. Allergies may lead to a vicious cycle of poor sleep and fatigue as your body is less able to combat allergens. Also, your inflamed upper respiratory system could reduce the amount of oxygen your body gets during sleep. This can lead to a condition similar to sleep apnea, plus additional fatigue because of fragmented sleep. If you have allergy-related asthma, you are also getting less oxygen during sleep and could experience daytime fatigue.
Ironically, some allergy medications may also lead to poor sleep, and the same vicious cycle of insomnia and daytime drowsiness. Many antihistamines can leave you groggy, with a “hung over” feeling that may last through the day. Or, if you take them at night, you may sleep for a while, but then wake when the medication wears off. Think switching to a decongestant will help? In one study, 15 to 25% of decongestant users reported insomnia. But some doctors switch their patients to prescription nasal corticosteroids, which are not as likely to cause fatigue.
Can allergies make you tired? Yes. Can you do anything about it? Yes. Limit exposure to allergens, evaluate your medications, and talk to your doctor about treatment options.
USA Today: “Seasonal allergies could spark depression, fatigue” http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-03-16-allergies-depression_N.htm
Psychosomatic Medicine: “Effects of Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis on Fatigue Levels and Mood”
National Allergy For A Healthier You: “Sleep and fatigue: your allergies may be a factor”