8 Surprising Ways Allergies Make You Miserable

Allergens cause more than sneezes—here’s how to fight back.

May 1, 2017
how to survive allergy season
Levi Brown

Headaches, itchy eyes, drippy nose? Sure, blame allergies. But allergic reactions may be behind another half dozen or more reasons you feel like hell. "I see people all the time who have symptoms they don't know are allergy-related," says Janna Tuck, M.D., of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology.

Unfortunately, a dramatic rise in pollen counts likely due to climate change—42 percent from 1994 to 2010, say the lab coats at Rutgers—means your suffering will be more intense and last longer than ever before.

Here are eight problems that you can easily solve with simple, appropriate remedies.

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Itchy Ears, Mouth, or Throat
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Itchy ears, mouth, or throat

You might not even notice the itch at first, but you'll subconsciously make a soft clicking sound by lifting your tongue and using it to scratch your soft palate. "It drives family and coworkers crazy," Dr. Tuck says.
 

WHY IT'S ALLERGIES

If you're allergic to pollen proteins from plants like birch or ragweed, you might react to similar proteins found in produce. (For an apples-to-zucchini list of potentially ticklish foods, go to aaaai.org and search "oral allergy syndrome.") With this mild variation of a food allergy, nasal and throat passages get riled up upon contact with cross-reacting allergens. The contact allergy may also exacerbate run-of-the-mill seasonal allergy symptoms, such as sneezing.
 

YOUR PLAN

Note when the itching occurs to learn if certain foods might be triggering a reaction, and then avoid them in the raw. You may not have to give them up entirely, because cooking destroys allergen proteins. So if you're a fan of apples, you'll be fine with applesauce. Sometimes you can prevent itch just by removing the peel, where cross-reactive allergens tend to concentrate.

Fatigue
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Fatigue

You feel exhausted during the day even though your sleep habits haven't changed.


WHY IT'S ALLERGIES

Allergies prompt your body to release chemicals that trigger inflammation. This alone can wear you out. But these so-called inflammatory mediators also pump up mucus production, causing congestion that can impair breathing and stifle sleep. "It's functionally like having obstructive sleep apnea," says Andrew Murphy, M.D., an allergist and immunologist based in West Chester, Pennsylvania.


YOUR PLAN

Use a corticosteroid nasal spray. It acts at the site and may ease inflammation better than an antihistamine will. If you pop an antihistamine instead, pick a nonsedating second-generation one. First-generation antihistamines, like Chlor-Trimeton, can cause daytime fatigue even when taken at night.

"There's a hangover effect from these first-generation meds, which are long-lasting," Dr. Murphy says. "You'll think you feel fine the next day, but neurocognitive testing would show that your brain is not at full power."

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nosebleed
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Nosebleed

This one isn't so mysterious. Inflammation from the allergy, the use of allergy meds (decongestants, nasal steroid sprays, antihistamines), and the sneezing can sometimes lead to blood-tinged snot or nosebleeds.


WHY IT'S ALLERGIES

Inflammation, sneezing, and blowing make your nose raw, and medications can dry it out, causing tissue in your nostrils to crack and expose blood vessels. Don't pick your nose. "People manipulate an uncomfortable nose with their fingers, and that can damage dry tissue," says Beth Corn, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Mt. Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine.


YOUR PLAN

Apply pressure to your nose for up to 20 minutes while tilting your head forward. For a long-term solution, ask your doctor about nasal steroids. Their inflammation-relieving effects can prevent nosebleeds, although steroids occasionally cause bleeds in some people. You can also keep your nose moist by swabbing it gently with saline nasal gel at night. In rare cases, a nosebleed can be a sign of a disease, so if it lasts longer than 20 minutes, call your doctor.

Loss of Taste, Smell, or Hearing
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Loss of taste, smell, or hearing

You've ignored your congestion for at least two or three days and notice that your hearing is a bit muffled and/or you can't smell very well—and therefore can't taste food.


WHY IT'S ALLERGIES

Congestion can put pressure on the middle ear or cause fluid to accumulate in it. Your middle ear connects with the back of your throat, and the fluid buildup makes it harder for your eardrum to transmit sound. Meanwhile, nasal swelling and mucus buildup can block the olfactory sensors in your nose, impairing your smell power. You could also have nasal polyps; these soft growths result from chronic inflammation.


YOUR PLAN

Treat your allergy with a nasal steroid spray or antihistamine. Try a decongestant to relieve stuffiness (unless you have high blood pressure, which decongestants can worsen). Don't use a topical nasal decongestant (like Afrin) for longer than two days or you may risk a rebound effect. Your doc can prescribe an oral steroid (like prednisone) to shrink polyps, but in some cases they must be surgically removed.

Swollen Eyelids
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Swollen eyelids

Your face is puffy, especially around the eyes. You might also notice under-the-skin swelling around your lips.


WHY IT'S ALLERGIES

A histamine-triggered inflammatory response boosts blood-flow, and the extra fluid can make skin puffy. The inflammation also makes nasal passages swell. "You actually have erectile tissue in your nose," Dr. Tuck says. Then, swelling and congestion obstruct your circulation so blood pools in your eyelids.


YOUR PLAN

Here's a low-tech but effective remedy: the cold compress. Soak a washcloth in cold water and place it over your closed eyes for about 20 minutes to help shrink blood vessels. But do it while you're standing up, not lying down, so gravity can help drain blood from around your eyes. To treat the underlying allergy, you have a couple of options—nasal steroid sprays and over-the-counter antihistamine eyedrops, which block histamine receptors in your eyes and can have spill-over benefits to nearby eyelids.

 
 
tender sinuses
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Tender Sinuses

You might have a headache, but more likely you feel pressure or fullness in your nasal passages.


WHY IT'S ALLERGIES

Pressure from congestion creates discomfort that can register as tenderness. If you get allergy-related migraines or haven't slept well, congestion can worsen an existing headache and seem to concentrate it in the sinuses.


YOUR PLAN

Use a nasal steroid spray to ease inflammation, but consider adding an oral antihistamine that'll work quickly while you wait the week or so needed for steroids to kick in. "The two drugs work differently, so it's okay to take them together," Dr. Murphy says. To flush mucus and help relieve congestion, use nasal saline or a neti pot. If pain persists, check with your doctor to make sure you don't have a sinus infection or a structural problem like a deviated septum.

Stomachache
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Stomachache

Your stomach hurts or you vomit or gag often (especially in the morning), and anti-reflux medications don't seem to help.


WHY IT'S ALLERGIES

You normally swallow about a quart of mucus a day. (Pub trivia fodder!) Add postnasal drip and you swallow a lot more—enough to cause stomach pain. Some people even vomit to clear the excess. Mornings may be especially bad because your night-time breathing thickens mucus and your system has more trouble clearing it out. Or you might have something called eosinophilic esophagitis, a reaction to foods or allergens that inflames the esophagus, triggering upper-abdomen pain.


YOUR PLAN

Nasal steroids or antihistamines can tamp down your allergic response so you produce less mucus. Another option: saline nasal sprays or washes. These non-medicine saltwater products help thin the mucus so it's more easily cleared out. If you need more help, oral decongestants can offer additional short-term relief.

Sensitive Teeth
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Sensitive Teeth

You have a toothache in your upper molars—pain, a throbbing sensation, or sensitivity to cold—but you got a clean bill of tooth health at your last checkup.


WHY IT'S ALLERGIES

Congestion in the maxillary sinuses, which sit right on top of your upper teeth, could be putting pressure on the underlying choppers' nerve roots.


YOUR PLAN

Anti-inflammatory nasal steroid sprays should relieve tooth pain by clearing up pressure from the allergy—if that's indeed the reason for your sensitivity. But it could be something else. "Inflamed nasal cavities are a great breeding ground for bacteria, so you can get superimposed sinus infections," Dr. Corn says. In fact, an unexplained toothache is a good sign that your allergy might have progressed to something that requires an antibiotic. See your dentist.

The article 8 Surprising Ways Allergies Make You Miserable originally appeared on Men’s Health.