Is There a Link Between Allergies and Multiple Sclerosis?

The science says not really, but you may say yes

The Allergy and MS Connection is Still Unclear
The Allergy and MS Connection is Still Unclear. bluecinema/Getty Images

Do you find yourself battling itchy eyes and a scratchy throat in addition to your usual multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms?

Do you wonder if your fatigue is from your allergies, your MS, or a combination of both? If so, you are not alone.

In fact, many people wonder whether a link exists between multiple sclerosis and allergy symptoms, mostly because both are caused by an abnormal, imbalanced immune response.

Exploring the Biology Behind the MS and Allergy Connection

While it seems plausible to think a link may exist, there is actually no robust scientific evidence to support an association between MS and allergic diseases, allergic rhinitis, asthma, or eczema, according to a review study in Acta Neurologica Scandinavica.

This all being said, one Italian study in Multiple Sclerosis did seem to find a slight link between allergies and MS, concluding that atopic allergies (meaning people who develop asthma, eczema, or allergic rhinitis in response to certain allergens) are slightly protective against MS. This may imply that allergy sufferers are a little less likely to develop MS—although, the underlying "why" behind this link is still unclear. 

Similarly, another study found that having allergies reduces a person's risk of developing MS. Interestingly, those with allergies were more likely to take the antibiotic penicillin, than those without allergies. The authors of the study suggest that penicillin may somehow play a role in mediating the link between allergies and MS.

Another 2017 study in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences found that children with MS who also had food allergies had fewer relapses than children with MS without food allergies.

What Does This All Mean?

The big picture here is that the relationship between allergies and MS is still being teased out; the research is simply too conflicting and sparse at this time to draw any conclusions.

When Your Allergies Makes Your MS Worse

Despite the lack of any robust scientific evidence supporting a link between allergies and MS (and to the contrary, the science seems to suggest that allergies may be protective against getting MS), that does not mean a person cannot have both conditions.

For instance, as a person with MS, you may find that when your allergy symptoms flare, so do your MS symptoms.

Additionally, there are a few symptoms that overlap between MS and allergies.

Fatigue

Allergies can make a person fatigued, as can MS. In fact, fatigue is one of the most common and most debilitating symptoms of MS. With that, experiencing fatigue from allergies on top of MS fatigue can be downright disabling.

In addition, the medications used to treat allergies can worsen or trigger fatigue in anyone. This is why allergists generally recommend sticking to the newer antihistamines (also called second-generation antihistamines) like Zyrtec (cetirizine) or Claritin (loratadine), as they are much less sedating (if at all) compared to first-generation antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine).

Cognitive Dysfunction

Anecdotally, some people feel like their allergies can cause thinking or memory problems, similar to MS cognitive problems. The cognitive problems described in allergies likely stem from the fatigue or malaise of experiencing allergies.

Coughing

For some people, coughing may be a combination of allergies and MS symptoms. For example, your MS-related respiratory dysfunction may be such that only the slightest thing (dryness, a slight chest cold, etc.) brings on a coughing fit. Having allergies on top of this may then worsen your cough.

A Word From Verywell

This article brings up the important point that science is not everything—meaning even though there is conflicting scientific evidence supporting a biological link between MS and allergies, it does not mean that you as a person do not find a connection in your own life.

As a person with a chronic illness, you have to learn to trust your instinct and be good to yourself. So, if for example, you have to skip an outdoor social function or take a day off to rest your itchy eyes and your mixed allergy/MS fatigue, then so be it. 

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View Article Sources
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