Can‌ ‌allergies‌ ‌be‌ ‌responsible‌ ‌for‌ ‌shortness‌ ‌of‌ ‌breath?‌

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on September 21, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Allergies affect over 50 million Americans each year, making them a very common condition that can be responsible for symptoms like itchy, watery eyes; nasal congestion; and even—in some cases—shortness of breath.

Here, we’ll cover how allergies can lead to shortness of breath, what causes allergies, allergy symptoms to be aware of, and remedies that may help bring relief—so read on. (And if you’re looking to try an allergy test kit to help you find your triggers, try the Everlywell Indoor & Outdoor Allergy Test—an easy to use test you can take from the convenience of home.)

What causes allergies?

Allergies occur when the immune system responds to a harmless substance that comes into contact with or enters the body—like pollen, pet dander, or food—by producing antibodies as “protection” (even though the substances aren’t actually a threat). The immune system’s response can lead to inflammation of one’s sinuses, airways, digestive system, or skin.

There are different types of allergies that can contribute to shortness of breath. Allergic asthma is one type, and it’s commonly caused by triggers in the environment—like dander (resulting in an allergic reaction to cats, dogs, or other animals), dust mites, cockroaches, mold, and pollen. Allergens like mold and pollen often cause seasonal allergies, while pet dander or dust mites may kickstart your allergies year-round. (Related: How to get ahead of spring allergies)

Typically, allergy triggers can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Airborne allergens: Pollen, dust mites, animal dander, and mold
  • Foods: Peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, eggs, fish, shellfish, and dairy
  • Insect stings: Bee or wasp stings
  • Drug or medications: Penicillin or penicillin-based antibiotics

How allergies can cause shortness of breath

Can allergies cause shortness of breath? The answer is “yes”: an environmental allergy can affect your airway in two distinct ways, potentially resulting in shortness of breath.

Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, affects your nose and sinuses. It can lead to sneezing, congestion, an itchy nose, and itchy eyes. If you’re especially congested, you may find it difficult to breathe through the nose.

Allergic asthma primarily affects the lungs, and can develop among people who have been diagnosed with asthma. It can cause coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath or rapid breathing. In the case of allergic asthma, these symptoms can develop simultaneously.

Symptoms of allergies

Allergic reactions can be different for everyone. Symptoms—and their severity—depend on one’s immune system and on the substance involved. Some allergy symptoms can be mild, like watery eyes or sneezing. Others can be more serious, like anaphylaxis, which is a rare but potentially life-threatening reaction.

Below are some symptoms to look for based on various allergies.

Hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis):

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy nose, eyes, or roof of your mouth
  • Runny, stuffy, or blocked nose
  • Watery, red, or swollen eyes

Allergic asthma:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest

Food allergy:

  • Tingling of the mouth
  • Swelling of the tongue, lips, face, or throat
  • Anaphylaxis

Insect sting allergy:

  • A large area of swelling at the sting site
  • Hives covering the body
  • Cough
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Anaphylaxis

Drug allergy:

  • Hives
  • Itchy skin
  • Rash
  • Swelling around the face
  • Wheezing
  • Anaphylaxis

Remedies for allergies

One of the best steps you can take to tackle your allergies is consulting with a healthcare provider or allergist, as they may recommend treatment options that work well for you. That being said, here are some allergy remedies you can consider trying.

Wash up after going outside: If you’ve been outside for a walk or a hike, pesky pollen may have snuck into your hair or clothing. So once you’re back home, take a shower to rinse any pollen particles from your hair and skin. Also, consider cleaning your clothes after going outside. Pollen particles that remain on your clothes may cause avoidable grass allergy symptoms. Note: Both pollen and insects can attach to your laundry when it’s hanging on the clothesline. If you’re suffering from seasonal allergies or allergies during pollen season, steer clear of hanging laundry outdoors to dry.

Avoid mowing the lawn: If you’re prone to allergies, it’s a good idea to avoid outside tasks that can stir up your symptoms. If possible, enlist the help of a family member or friend to mow the lawn and pull the weeds so you don’t find yourself crossing paths with annoying allergens.

Stay inside: Try to limit your outdoor exposure on days that are dry and windy. The best time to venture outdoors for any outside activities is always after rain, which helps to clear out airborne pollen.

Inside cleaning tips: To help with pollen and pet dander, invest in a portable high-efficiency particulate air filter (also known as a HEPA filter) and a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Also, frequently wash items like pillow covers, curtains, and pet beds (and don’t forget to regularly bathe your pets, too) if you’re experiencing pet or dust allergies. If you wake up with nasal symptoms like a stuffy nose, it might be time to wash your sheets.

Can COVID-19 cause shortness of breath?

Allergies aren’t the only possible cause of shortness of breath, so if this is a symptom you experience but aren’t sure why, consult with your healthcare provider. Significantly, COVID-19 (“coronavirus disease 2019”) can cause shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Other possible symptoms of COVID-19 include fever or chills, coughing, fatigue, nasal congestion, and more. (Related: Symptoms of COVID-19)

Conclusion

It can be hard to decipher whether symptoms like shortness of breath is due to allergies or something else. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider to make sure any potentially serious health concerns are uncovered as soon as possible.

Also, you may be interested in taking an at-home allergy test to learn more about the allergies affecting you. Our Indoor & Outdoor Allergy Test checks for 40 common indoor and outdoor allergens—including pets, trees, grasses, dust mites, and more. It’s easy to use—you just collect a small blood sample via a simple finger prick—and results are viewable on our secure, online platform. Plus, shipping is free and the test is HSA/FSA eligible.


References

1. Allergies. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

2. Allergy-proof your home. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

3. Symptoms of Coronavirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

4. Coughing? Sneezing? Wheezing? You May Have Allergic Asthma. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

5. Allergy Facts and Figures.Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

6. Shortness of Breath Causes. Mayo Clinic.URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

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