Seasonal allergies are frustrating! Not only can they make you miserable but they’re inconvenient. You plan your activities around them and take extra steps to avoid exposure to the allergens that trigger your allergy symptoms and send you into gales of sneezing and make your eyes water and itch. Sound familiar?
If you’re allergic to pollen, you may have to move inside when the flowers start blooming in spring or stay inside during high-pollen days in fall or winter. You may feel like you’re constantly popping Claritin or Zyrtec. For some people, seasonal allergies create a form of brain fog that makes it harder to concentrate at work or school. Plus, some allergy medications, like antihistamines, can worsen fatigue and brain fog.
If you have allergies, you’re in good company. Based on a survey, 54.6% of people have reactions to one or more allergens (including food allergies) and up to 30% of all adults suffer from hay fever, making it one of the most common afflictions that humans deal with. Allergies are the body’s immune system overreacting to something that is normally harmless. In the case of seasonal allergies, this is usually pollen or mold spores in the air.
What Causes Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies are the result of an immune system response to allergens like pollen and dust. When you breathe in these allergens or encounter them from other sources like the conjunctiva or your eyes, your immune system releases antibodies called IgE (immunoglobulin E). These antibodies bind to the allergens and trigger an immune response that can have a range of effects on your body.
Most of the symptoms of allergies come from the release of histamine, a chemical that your body produces in response to an allergen, such as pollen, certain plant, or grasses. The most common symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and throat, and congestion. Some people have mild seasonal allergy symptoms while others struggle to deal with the constant sneezing and itchy, watery eyes.
Can Seasonal Allergies Cause a Rise in Blood Pressure?
A number of people believe that seasonal allergies and all the sniffing and nose blowing that goes along with it, cause a rise in blood pressure. But is there science to support this? The answer is yes and no. While seasonal allergies alone are not known to raise blood pressure, the medications you take to control seasonal allergies can.
During allergy season, doctors often prescribe or recommend decongestants or antihistamines to control the runny nose, stuffiness, and sneezing that goes along with allergies. Some of these medications, particularly decongestants can cause blood pressure to rise while you’re taking them.
Decongestants Can Raise Your Blood Pressure
Why do decongestants cause a blood pressure rise? These medications that dry up nasal secretions and help you breathe easier cause the blood vessels in your nose to contract, along with other blood vessels throughout your body. When blood vessels tighten, it causes a rise in pressure. Some people who take decongestants experience a sharp rise in blood pressure while most develop a more modest increase. Decongestants also increase your heart rate. If you already have high blood pressure or heart disease, taking a decongestant is riskier because they place added stress on your cardiovascular system.
Decongestants now contain a warning label that advises against taking them if you have certain health conditions, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, or problems urinating. That’s why it’s best to talk to your physician before taking one.
Although decongestants can cause a short-term rise in blood pressure, they don’t increase the risk of developing hypertension longer-term. Once you stop using them, your blood pressure should return to normal.
What about Antihistamines?
Another type of medication your doctor may tell you to take with seasonal allergies is antihistamines. An antihistamine blocks histamine, a substance released by the body in response to an allergen that causes allergic symptoms like sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. It can also reduce inflammation in the nose and throat, which is why some people take an antihistamine when they have a cold. It won’t cure your cold but may give some temporary relief from the symptoms.
Antihistamines are less likely to cause a rise in blood pressure and most people with seasonal allergies who have hypertension can safely take them. However, some seasonal allergy medications contain a combination of an antihistamine and a decongestant. The decongestant portion can raise blood pressure, so it’s important to read the label carefully when buying an over-the-counter allergy medication and avoid decongestants if you have hypertension or cardiovascular disease.
Other Ways to Treat Seasonal Allergies
If you have high blood pressure and want to avoid allergy medications, you may get relief from natural allergy relief measures too.
- Drink plenty of fluids to thin out your nasal secretions and make them less sticky.
- Use a sterile saline spray to clean out your nasal passages and remove pollen and other allergens.
- Increase the humidity in your home (if it’s low) to keep your nasal passages moist.
- Check the pollen count in your area daily and avoid gardening or spending lots of time outside when it’s high.
- Maintain a healthy vitamin D level. Some studies show a modest link between maintaining a normal vitamin D level and less allergic-type inflammation in the nasal passages.
- Consume an abundance of fruits and vegetables. A component in fruits and vegetables, called quercetin, has anti- has an anti-inflammatory effect that may reduce the release of histamine in response to allergens.
Seasonal allergies alone don’t cause a rise in blood pressure but the medications you take to treat seasonal allergies can. If you take over-the-counter meds for allergy symptoms and have hypertension or cardiovascular disease, look for one that contains only a non-sedating antihistamine and no decongestant. Make sure to get the okay from your physician before taking it. Also, try the natural approaches above for easing the runny nose and itchy eyes.
“8 Facts about Seasonal Allergies – Penn Medicine.” 08 Mar. 2019, https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2019/march/8-facts-about-seasonal-allergies.
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