Seasonal Allergies May Lead to Brain Fog

The trees and bulbs bursting into flower this month are a welcome sight after months of cold, dull days.  But for allergy sufferers, Spring also brings itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and a host of other bothersome allergic symptoms. Brain fog may be one that isn’t commonly associated with seasonal allergies.  

If you struggle to keep seasonal allergies under control, you may have noticed that at the height of pollen counts, it may be harder to focus and keep a clear mind.  You are not imagining it – fatigue, dizziness, imbalance, and fuzzy thinking are associated with an uptick in allergens like pollen, mold, or dander. 

People who are sensitive to allergens have an immune system response that produces histamines causing blood vessel dilation and muscle contractions.  The response also triggers a release of cytokines molecules that communicate with cells and are an integral part of the body’s immune response.  Too many cytokines, or a “cytokine storm”  however, can create inflammation that has a negative impact on the immune system. 

Chronic inflammation in response to allergens in the sinuses, throat, eyes, and nasal membranes can interfere with sleep and contribute to brain fog or haziness.  When the ears are affected and the middle ear isn’t able to drain properly, balance problems and dizziness can make it difficult to concentrate.  If not treated and controlled properly, allergic rhinitis can affect cognition and impair memory and according to recent studies, ongoing inflammation may lead to neurochemical changes.

Working with an allergist to get reactions under control using antihistamines or immunotherapy (allergy shots) while avoiding triggers can help people cope better with allergy season and avoid cognitive problems.  In addition to medical treatment for allergies, many people find it helpful to shower after being outdoors before bedtime to remove pollen from hair and skin, keep windows closed, and to frequently launder bedding.  Keeping indoor areas well-vacuumed and dusted can also help minimize exposure to allergens.  A fresh, clean face mask may also help people with seasonal allergies on days when pollen counts are high but yard work or other outdoor activities are calling.