If you’re feeling dizzy, you might be wondering about the underlying cause. Dehydration, medications, and a variety of conditions can cause you to feel dizzy and nauseated. While dizziness might seem like a mild condition, it can actually be very disruptive to daily life. It can even be so severe that it leaves you bedridden for hours or days.
Among the many causes of dizziness are allergies. An allergy is the immune system’s response to a foreign substance that’s not typically harmful to your body. These foreign substances are called allergens. They may include certain foods, pollen, or pet dander, to name a few.
Allergy-related sinus congestion can lead to dizziness or a more severe type of dizziness called vertigo. Keep reading to learn what causes your allergy-related dizziness, and how to treat it.
Allergy-induced dizziness can be caused by substances called allergens. Allergens can be found both in the air and in the food you eat.
Airborne Allergy-Induced Dizziness
If you are allergic to certain airborne substances, including dust, pollens, and pet dander, your body begins releasing chemicals called histamines to fight off these perceived intruders. These histamines are the cause of the symptoms you know of as allergy symptoms. Typical allergy symptoms include sinus congestion, sneezing, itchy throat, and coughing.
Allergies affect the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube is essentially a tunnel that connects your middle ear to the back of your throat and helps to regulate your balance, while also equalizing the pressure in your middle ear with the ambient air pressure. When you begin experiencing symptoms in your ears, including that annoying clogged feeling that can make it difficult to hear, it’s often because your Eustachian tube is blocked with mucus. When it’s blocked, it’s no longer able to equalize pressure in the ear and maintain balance in your body. These middle-ear disturbances can cause symptoms of dizziness in those suffering from allergies, colds, and sinus infections.
Lightheadedness may also be a symptom of allergies. Lightheadedness and dizziness are two specific symptoms that are usually distinguishable from one another. When you’re lightheaded, you feel as though you might faint or pass out, instead of the feeling that the room is spinning (or that your head is spinning). Lying down usually resolves lightheadedness, at least temporarily, while dizziness is generally not extinguished when you lie down.
Food Allergy-Induced Dizziness
Lightheadedness and dizziness are sometimes associated with food allergies. It is a manifestation of the body’s attempt to fight off this foreign substance, similar to the histamine reaction that occurs with airborne allergies. If you regularly have symptoms of dizziness, airborne allergies may not be the cause. You may have an intolerance to gluten or wheat, or other food product.
Your symptoms can occur immediately after eating the offending food, or hours later, but true food allergies tend to show up quickly. On the other hand, mild ‘food intolerance’ may not manifest for several hours, or even days. For that reason, you might not associate your dizziness with food that you’ve recently eaten. It may not even be discovered until allergy testing reveals the sensitivity.
Vertigo is a severe form of dizziness that causes you to see the room as though it’s spinning. Someone with vertigo may also feel as though they are moving when they are actually sitting or standing still. In the case of allergy-induced vertigo, the culprit is fluid building up in the middle ear.
It’s important to note that while vertigo can be debilitating or disruptive, it is often treatable. Your doctor will likely run a variety of tests to determine the cause. If it’s determined that the vertigo is related to allergic rhinitis, your doctor will provide treatment accordingly or refer you to a specialist (usually an allergist or ear, nose, and throat doctor).
Since vertigo can be related to more serious issues, it’s important to seek treatment as quickly as possible once you’ve experienced this symptom.
The cure for allergy-induced dizziness is usually to treat the cause — the allergy itself. Avoiding the allergen altogether is the most effective way to treat an allergy. Unfortunately, it's not possible to completely avoid allergens in the air. Prescription and over-the-counter medications are available to help relieve dizziness and other symptoms of allergies. However, treating the underlying cause is usually a more effective way to rid yourself of dizziness for good.
First, your doctor will try to determine the cause of your dizziness. This is usually done by a traditional allergy test, with a detailed analysis of your particular allergens. Food allergies are usually diagnosed through a process of elimination. Your doctor may have you take part in a so-called ‘elimination diet’ to figure out which food is causing your symptoms. From there, you can decide which treatments or dietary changes are necessary.
There are many options for battling allergy symptoms. Antihistamines are popular for short-term use and can be very effective in relieving the congestion that may be causing your dizziness. Antihistamines are also used to treat vertigo. Be aware that many antihistamines can cause drowsiness. It’s important to not drive or operate machinery when you first take an antihistamine. You should also avoid taking them with antidepressants, anti-anxiety agents, muscle relaxants, sleeping pills, or alcohol. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.
Aside from antihistamines, other types of medications for treating allergies or the symptoms of allergies include:
- corticosteroid pills
- cromolyn sodium
- nasal or oral steroid sprays
- leukotriene modifiers
Long term, your doctor will likely want to treat the allergy causing the histamine reaction. This can be done with prescription medication that is safe for daily use. It can also be done with specially-formulated allergy shots.
When you receive an allergy shot, you’re actually being injected with a small amount of the allergen. This helps desensitize your body to the allergen over time. By gradually increasing your dosage, your body adjusts. Your symptoms will decrease over time. Allergy shots aren’t currently available for food allergies.
You might need to consider a change in diet if your dizziness is food-related. A gluten-free, dairy-free, or wheat-free diet may be recommended. There are many options on the market today to address these special dietary needs. Your doctor may also monitor you for signs of celiac disease. This is a more serious form of gluten intolerance that requires complete avoidance of gluten in your diet or serious health complications can follow.
Dizziness can be a problem, but when allergies are the root cause, treatment can leave you free of symptoms. The key is to determine the reason for your dizziness and treat the cause, rather than the symptom itself.