Medically reviewed by Marc Meth, MD, FACAAI, FAAAI
Written by Jessica Caporuscio, Pharm.D.
An allergy is the immune system’s reaction to a foreign substance, or allergen, in the body. Typical symptoms of seasonal and environmental allergies include a runny nose, sneezing, sinus congestion, and itchy eyes.
A less common symptom of allergies is vertigo, which is a severe form of dizziness. A person may experience this symptom during the allergy season.
In this article, we explore the link between allergies, dizziness, and vertigo. We also discuss treatment and medication options, as well as some self-care tips.
Vertigo and dizziness
Vertigo is a type of dizziness that usually causes people to feel as though the world is spinning.
The Vestibular Disorders Association define dizziness, vertigo, and disequilibrium as follows:
Dizziness This occurs when a person feels light-headed, faint, or unsteady.
Vertigo This occurs when a person feels as though they are spinning,
or that the environment around them is spinning.
Disequilibrium This occurs when a person feels unsteady or imbalanced
with an inability to determine their location and motion
relative to the environment.
Dizziness is associated with other conditions, such as heart, blood vessel, brain, metabolic, vision, and psychological problems.
Vertigo is associated with a dysfunction in the structures of the ear or brain that control balance. It can last from a few seconds to a few days.
Causes of vertigo and its link to allergies
Many conditions can give rise to vertigo, including inner ear disease and Ménière’s disease.
A less common cause of vertigo is allergies. Allergies can be either seasonal or occur all year round.
One particular way that allergies may cause dizziness, vertigo, or both is via eustachian tube dysfunction. The eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the inside of the nose and the back of the throat. Since these structures are all connected, severe allergy symptoms can affect the ears through increased mucus production and nasal congestion.
The functions of the ears are hearing and balance. When the eustachian tube cannot regulate the pressure in the middle ear, it can also affect the vestibular system. This controls balance and is located in the inner ear.
Chronic middle ear conditions can also cause vertigo. People with infections or inflammation in the middle ear can experience vertigo and balance disorders. Some researchers suggest that allergies can cause middle ear inflammation.
Treatments and remedies
If a person is experiencing vertigo and other allergy symptoms, a doctor can try treating the allergy symptoms, which may, in turn, resolve the vertigo.
A case report from Kyoto, Japan showed the effectiveness of allergy medication in a woman with chronic vertigo and allergy symptoms who had not responded to usual vertigo treatment and medications.
However, further research will be necessary to confirm these findings.
The sections below list some medications that may be effective in treating allergies and vertigo.
Nasal steroids and antihistamines
Doctors and pharmacists recommend nasal steroids and topical or oral antihistamine drugs as first-line medications to treat seasonal allergy symptoms.
Other oral treatments
- leukotriene receptor antagonists
- sublingual immunotherapy
- oral corticosteroids (in severe cases)
Sometimes, depending on the severity of a person’s allergy symptoms and their response to other allergy treatments, a doctor will recommend immunotherapy, or “allergy shots.”
People should only use oral decongestants for allergy symptoms if they experience sinus or nasal congestion.
Because these medications have many side effects, including increased blood pressure, it is vital that people consult with their doctor before taking them.
Decongestant nasal sprays are also available to help relieve sinus congestion. People should not use these products for more than 3 consecutive days, however, as this can lead to dependence and rebound congestion after use.
These drugs include:
- antihistamines, such as meclizine (Bonine)
- antiemetics, such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)
As much as possible, people should try to avoid the substance that causes their allergies. However, this may be difficult, as seasonal allergy symptoms are usually the result of pollen, which is everywhere outdoors.
People with indoor allergy symptoms should try to reduce exposure to dust mites and animal dander, as these are likely the cause of their symptoms.
It may be helpful to remove allergens in the house by:
- using anti-allergen bedding covers
- washing bedsheets in hot water
- using vacuum cleaners with high efficiency particulate air filters
People with seasonal allergies may have symptoms that affect their eyes, ears, nose, and throat. All of these structures are connected.
Doctors have also noticed that some people with severe allergy symptoms develop vertigo.
Vertigo is not a common symptom of allergies, so healthcare providers should be absolutely sure before they confirm that allergies are the cause.
When a person has both allergy symptoms and vertigo, treating the allergy symptoms may resolve both issues.