High pollen counts can cause springtime dizzy spells.
Just as the weather has started to warm up and cold season has subsided, we’ve got yet another thing keeping us from enjoying the outdoors: seasonal allergies.
But it’s not just the sneezing, itchy eyes, and headaches we have to worry about when the trees bloom — seasonal allergies can also cause vertigo that makes you feel like the world is spinning.
Vertigo isn’t the most common symptom of seasonal allergies, says Dr. Tania Elliott, a board-certified allergist and internist in New York. But it tends to happen more often in places where pollen counts are particularly high, like Austin, Texas.
“Right now, the state of Texas is really getting killed with pollen,” she said. “But overall, I’d say less than 10 percent of people with allergies come to see me for vertigo or dizziness.”
Temporary dizzy spells from seasonal allergies aren’t a major health concern, but they can put you out of work for a day or two.
“The vertigo can make you feel absolutely miserable. It feels like a spinning ride at a carnival. Most people don’t even bother getting out of bed if they wake up with it,” said Elliott.
So, what causes your seasonal allergies to move from typical symptoms — like nasal congestion, puffy eyes, and throat irritation — to that whirling sensation that can knock you off your feet?
When you breathe in certain allergens, like pollen, your body releases inflammatory markers called histamines that cause swelling and mucus production in your nose, throat, and inner ear tubes. The response is what makes you feel like your head is filled with pressure.
“Your sinuses are supposed to be air-filled cavities, not filled with fluids. But when you get so stopped up and inflamed, fluid gets trapped and causes an imbalance in your inner ear fluids. That can contribute to headaches and feelings of dizziness — a lot of people will say that they feel like they’re stuck under water,” said Elliott.
Generally speaking, you don’t have to worry about vertigo just because of a high pollen count. The onset of dizziness tends to happen when people delay treatment for their allergies, and try to wait them out, Elliott added.
“Vertigo is directly correlated with how long patients wait to see the doctor. Once an allergic response is triggered, that begets the release of more and more chemicals in the body, creating a compounding effect. You end up with vertigo as a complication of an untreated allergic response in the nose,” said Elliott.
The best way to evade springtime dizziness is to limit your exposure to allergens. Avoid spending a lot of time outdoors when pollen counts are high, and keep your windows closed.
Kick off your shoes, take a shower soon after being outside, and wash your clothes frequently to reduce the spread of pollen into your home.
Elliott also says that you might even want to change your hairstyle to avoid allergens.
“Don’t use hairspray — pollen will stick to your hair. And wear glasses instead of contact lenses, which pollen can stick to,” said Elliott.
If you start to experience allergy symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor right away. They may recommend a nasal steroid spray to bring down the swelling in your sinuses and an antihistamine to ease some of your symptoms. Allergy shots may also help people with chronic allergies to find long-term relief.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of taking your allergy symptoms seriously the first time you notice them,” said Elliott. “Most people will suffer through it and think that allergies are a lifestyle disease with no complications, but when your immune system [is] on overdrive for a month, it increases your risk of infection, disease, and vertigo. There are downstream consequences to avoiding treatment.”
Not to mention that spring is much more enjoyable when you don’t feel like the ground is spinning under your feet.