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Feel Tired and Blue — And Don’t Know Why? Doctors Say Your Allergies May Be to Blame

The good news: These home remedies and OTC options help speed relief

Beautiful springs weather beckons us outdoors. But for those with seasonal allergies, this invitation comes with a hidden question: “Can allergies make you tired?” Indeed, symptoms go beyond the familiar sneezing and itchiness. Pollen, mold spores and ragweed, key triggers of seasonal allergies, can also zap your energy and dampen your mood.

“Any illness or disorder, if it detracts from the enjoyment of the world around us, is a psychological stressor — and allergic rhinitis is no different,” says David Gudis, MD, chief of the division of rhinology and anterior skull base surgery at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Among the many symptoms that patients with allergic rhinitis experience, some are specifically correlated to mood disorders.”

Here, learn how home remedies and over-the-counter options help tame symptoms and renew your energy when allergies make you tired.

The link between allergies, energy and mood

In the US, around 25% of adults experience seasonal allergies, while over 21% are affected by mood disorders during their lifetime. Seasonal allergy triggers vary throughout the year. There are tree pollens in spring, grass in summer and weed pollens like ragweed in autumn.

While not everyone with allergies, or allergic rhinitis, experiences depression and fatigue, and not everyone with depression has allergies, there’s a notable connection, says Dr. Gudis.

”For at least 75 years, doctors have identified and written about the association between depression and anxiety and allergic rhinitis,” he says. “It’s been studied in different ways, using different scientific methodologies of investigation around the world. The reason that’s important is that allergens are different in different parts of the world, meaning this is not unique to a reaction to a specific allergen. It’s related more to the cascade of the inflammatory pathways that happen in the body during the allergic reaction.”

And it’s not your imagination if it feels like allergy season is getting tougher each year. A 2020 study found that pollen seasons start around 20 days earlier and lasts 8 days longer.

A blonde woman in a yellow top looking out the window because she feels sad and tired due to allergies

How inflammation comes into play

At the heart of the body’s allergic reaction is histamine, a chemical typically involved in managing sleep and cognition. When the body incorrectly perceives harmless substances as threats, it releases histamine, says Robert Rountree, MD, a family medicine doctor in Boulder Colorado.

“Histamine sets off the redness, swelling and pain,” Dr. Rountree explains. “It also stimulates mucus production and causes spasms in the lungs’ smooth muscles.”

What’s more, it affects the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, which impact emotions and cognitive functions, Dr. Rountree adds. “This is why the onset of allergies can make people more anxious and why antihistamines, which counteract histamine’s effects, are not only used to treat allergy symptoms but also to aid sleep,” he says.

The response is then amplified by cytokines, potent messengers that boost immune activity, leading to increased inflammation. This heightened immune reaction can impact brain functions. Why? Cytokines can cross the blood-brain barrier, influencing mood and sleep regulation areas, says Dr. Gudis. (Click through to learn how onion peel tea helps tame inflammation.)

Can allergies make you tired?

Because of the long-lasting inflammation, allergic rhinitis is more than just uncomfortable. Dr. Gudis points out a less obvious but very significant effect: It seriously messes with sleep.

“There’s shorter sleep duration, meaning you’re not getting as many hours of sleep,” he says. “And there is disruption of the normal sleep function and architecture, meaning if you measure somebody’s brainwaves, the sleep they get is not as restful.”

That’s known as “hidden sleep.” The normal patterns of deep and restorative sleep stages are changed to the point allergy sufferers feel unrefreshed or fatigued upon waking, as if they hadn’t slept well at all, Dr. Gudis adds. “There’s tons of evidence that bad sleep exacerbates symptoms of depression and anxiety,” he adds.

People with allergies are about one and a half times as likely to have major depression, and it is particularly pronounced in women. So if you suffer from allergies, it’s no wonder you often feel tired or blue.

A woman napping on a grey couch with a yellow throw pillow

Related: Studies Show That Ginseng Tea Can Help Cure Chronic Tiredness, Dial Down Hunger, Reverse Thinning Hair and More!

Other tolls allergies can take

Beyond feeling tired, another under-the-radar consequence of allergies is how stuffiness affects your mood.  

“We don’t even realize it, but our sense of smell helps us connect to people around us,” Dr. Gudis says. “When people have olfactory dysfunction, as a result of their noses being swollen and inflamed, they are more likely to feel depressed and isolated.”

Allergic rhinitis casts an even wider net, making your brain feel foggy, too. “Basically, the whole middle of their head is inflamed, impacting memory, attention and fatigue,” Dr. Gudis says.

Not only do allergies potentially worsen mood disorders, but the stress of mood disorders can amp up allergic responses. “If your inflammatory mechanisms are already firing, and then you throw an allergic reaction on top of it, you’re propelling that allergic reaction to an even greater degree,” Dr. Gudis adds.

What do to when allergies make you tired

If allergies often leave you feeling down, tired or worn out, help is here. And your first line of defense is to think of your home as a sanctuary from allergies, advises Dr. Gudis. His advice:

  1. Check the pollen count. Before venturing out, monitor pollen count, mold levels and other allergen forecasts through weather apps or the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s National Allergy Bureau website. On high count days, consider wearing an N-95 mask.
  2. Opt for air purifiers. If allergens are particularly bad, stay indoors and use air filters when possible. Portable air purifiers with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters help remove up to 99.97% of pollen, dust, dander and other allergens. One to try: Levoit Vista 200 True HEPA Air Purifier.
  3. Slip off your shoes. To keep pollen and dander out of your house, remove shoes and clothes you wore outdoors when you get home. Tip: When possible, slip off your shoes in an area where you have tile or hardwood, which is easier to clean. Rugs and carpets act like sponges for pollen and pet dander, says Dr. Gudis. 
  4. Throw in a load of laundry. Wash bedsheets regularly and use allergen-proof bed covers and pillowcases. This is especially important if you have pets that sleep in bed with you.
  5. Shower before bed. “If you’ve been out all day, you are covered in microscopic pieces of pollen that otherwise you are just going to be rolling around in that all night,” Dr. Gudis explains.
A black and white checkered floor with red boots by an open door and a welcome mat
Ditching your shoes at the door helps prevent you from tracking pollen inside.Image Source/Getty

Once you’ve got these 5 simple steps down, there are a few other tricks you can try when allergies make feel you tired:

1. Flush your sinuses

Dr. Rountree suggests using a sterile saline solution with either a neti pot or a squeeze bottle for sinus irrigation. A neti pot involves pouring a saline solution (using boiled, then cooled water) into one nostril so that it flows through and exits the opposite nostril. Along the way, it clears out mucus and irritants. Then repeat on the opposite nostril. When used properly, it’s highly effective at whisking away discharge, mucus, allergens and debris from the sinuses.

To kick it up a notch, especially when allergies are making you tired, Dr. Rountree recommends using Alkalol Nasal Wash, a solution with natural extracts and essential oils. He advises using a 50% dilution multiple times a day if needed. “You can dilute it in a neti pot or use it with a bulb syringe,” he says. “It’s especially beneficial throughout allergy season to help prevent infections.”

Check out the video below for a visual how-to:

Related: 6 Easy Allergy Cures for Natural Relief From Sneezing, Headaches and More

2. Nourish your gut

There’s an important link between your gut microbiome – the intricate ecosystem of bacteria and microbes that live in your body – and brain function. And Dr. Rountree says restoring a healthy gut environment can tame the inflammation that worsens allergy symptoms like fatigue and blue mood. In fact, a growing body of research links a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fish, and with limited processed foods, to a lower risk of depression, he adds.

“There is a relationship between what’s going on in the gut and what’s going on with the immune system in general,” Dr. Rountree says. “One of the objectives of having healthy gut microbes is to get a more positive immune response.”

How exactly should you “feed” your gut? Dr. Rountree recommends prebiotics found in foods like onions, garlic, asparagus and resistant starch. Sources of resistant starch include sticky rice (like sushi) and potatoes when they are cooked and then cooled. Probiotics, beneficial bacteria abundant in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha, are important for good gut health, too.

Other gut-friendly foods Dr. Rountree likes: phytochemical-rich foods like colorful fruits and vegetables and foods high in luteolin, such as parsley, celery, thyme and radicchio.

Garlic, onion and green herbs, which people can eat when allergies make them feel tired

Related: These Teas Ease Allergies Naturally + the Timing Trick That Boosts the Benefit

3. Consider quercetin

For naturally allergy relief, Dr. Rountree suggests Quercetin Phytosome for its antihistamine qualities and strong antioxidant effects. Quercetin is compound found in foods such as apples and onions. He recommends one or two 250 mg capsules twice a day year-round to bolster your immune system. And when your allergies are really bothering you, you can take twice that amount for flare ups, he adds. (Click through to learn how butterbur can ease allergies naturally, too.)

The best OTC allergy meds

Navigating the pharmacy aisles for allergy relief? Here’s what you need to know. Dr. Rountree says older-generation decongestants, like the ones found in antihistamines used in NyQuil or Benadryl, can be sedating and make people feel out of it. And Sudafed and Sudafed PE can cause anxiety, nervousness and insomnia for some folks.

“The first thing you have to sort out is whether it’s the allergy itself that’s making someone tired or if it’s the drug that they’re taking,” says Dr. Rountree.

Dr. Gudis recommends nasal corticosteroid sprays. They have fewer side effects and can be started a week or two before allergy season. These include Fluticasone and Nasacort for seasonal allergies. “They don’t cross the blood-brain barrier and cause drowsiness like the old-school antihistamines like Benadryl, which if people are going to take, it should be at night.”

When his allergies kick in, Dr. Gudis uses a nasal steroid such as Flonase to curb inflammation in the nasal passages as well as a nasal antihistamine spray like Astepro Allergy for itching, sneezing and a runny nose.

Note: Second-generation antihistamines in pill form, such as Zyrtec, Allegra and Claritin, are still a good choice for many, says Dr. Gudis, as they cause less drowsiness than Benadryl.

For more ways to outsmart allergies:

These Teas Ease Allergies Naturally + the Timing Trick That Boosts the Benefit

6 Easy Allergy Cures for Natural Relief From Sneezing, Headaches and More

Top Docs Call *This* Plant Extract A Powerful Natural Allergy Remedy — It Helps Prevent Migraines Too!

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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