How Allergies Can Make You Dizzy

Close-up shot of a woman suffering from a headache and rubbing her temples at home

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If you have allergies, there are a number of reasons you might experience dizziness. This symptom can occur along with more classic reactions to airborne allergens such as sneezing or hives. It also is a side effect of certain types of allergy medications.

Dizziness sometimes is part of a cluster of symptoms of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction to food, insect stings, and other such allergens. An anaphylactic reaction can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Dizziness is not the same as vertigo, which causes you to feel as if everything in your immediate environment is spinning around you and is not associated with allergies in any way.

The Role of IgE

Your immune system produces different types of antibodies in response to substances that could indicate a threat (antigens). One of these is immunoglobulin E (IgE). Antigens that result in the production of IgE are called allergens.

The first time the body is exposed to a specific allergenic protein, it is taken in by immune cells and presented to lymphocytes, which then produce IgE antibodies specific for that protein that circulate throughout the body and bind to mast cells and basophils.

When the same allergen is encountered again, it is bound to the IgE that is attached to these cells, triggering the release of histamine and other pre-formed allergic mediators.

The release of histamine sets off a variety of responses that are beneficial in fighting off pathogens, but are unneeded or excessive in response to an allergen. In the case of respiratory allergies, these include sneezing, swelling of membranes (edema), increased mucus secretion, and wheezing.

When histamine is released in response to a food, medication, or insect sting or bite, the reaction can produce symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening:

  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Hives or swelling (angioedema)
  • Red and itchy eyes
  • Throat tightness, choking, trouble swallowing, or swelling of the tongue
  • Trouble breathing, coughing, wheezing, or chest tightness
  • Vomiting

Airborne Allergies and Dizziness

Airborne allergies can lead to sinus congestion as well as inflammation of the lining of the eustachian (auditory) tube, which normally equalizes the pressure in the middle ear.

When the eustachian tube becomes blocked by inflammation, pressure builds and your ears feel plugged up, which sometimes can result in dizziness or balance problems.

You may also feel lightheaded or off-balance from the side effects of allergy medication. Most oral antihistamines can cause dizziness. 

Treating Dizziness

The first thing you should do if you feel dizzy is sit or lie down somewhere safe. If your healthcare provider has recommended allergy medications and you are due for a dose, taking it may subdue the histamine reaction causing your dizziness.

Such medications include nasal steroids and topical or oral antihistamines. If you are at risk of an anaphylactic reaction you may be prescribed an epinephrine injector to carry and use.

See your healthcare provider if you have not been diagnosed with allergies but suspect you've been having allergic reactions to something in your environment. You also should contact your healthcare provider or seek immediate medical attention if you have persistent or severe bouts of dizziness.

Dizziness and Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. It most often is associated with allergies to food, medication, latex, and insect stings. The symptoms of anaphylaxis come on within 20 to 30 minutes of ingestion or exposure.

Dizziness can occur as part of an anaphylactic episode, often because of a drop in blood presure, but it usually is not a primary symptom. Classic signs of anaphylaxis include:

  • Angioedema (swelling)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Hoarseness
  • Swelling of the tongue
  • Swelling or tightness in the throat
  • Urticaria (hives)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

In severe cases, cardiac arrest or death may occur.

Take No Chances

Seek immediate medical attention for any symptoms of anaphylaxis, including dizziness, even if you aren't aware you've eaten or been exposed to an allergen. Call 911 and use your epinephrine autoinjector if you have one.

A Word From Verywell

It can be scary to feel dizzy or off-balance, but it shouldn't be a cause for panic. If you also are experiencing more classic symptoms of an allergic reaction to something in your environment or a food or insect bite, the dizziness is likely just one more manifestation of the response.

Medication you take to manage allergies also can play a role in dizziness. If it becomes frequent or severe, see your healthcare provider, who may want to investigate other potential sources of your dizzness such as migraine or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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