Seasonal Allergies and Back Pain: Is There a Connection?

As if allergies couldn’t be more miserable, do you have to worry about back pain too? Hear from our expert.

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If you have them, you know. The sneezing. The coughing. The itchy, watery eyes. While others are planning spring hikes and outdoor get-togethers, you’re dreading the onset of your seasonal allergies. Allergies ruin springtime for between 10% and 30% of the worldwide population, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology

Woman suffering from back pain and allergiesAs if allergies couldn’t be more miserable, do you have to worry about back pain too?

These allergies, brought on by pollen from trees, grass, and other plants, can cause a host of miseries. People have even been known to complain of back pain when dealing with seasonal allergies. 

Is it possible that all those trees and flowers can actually bring on backaches? Could it be the result of all that coughing or sinus pressure?  

Can Seasonal Allergies Cause Back Pain?

Actually, although a handful of studies point to a connection between allergies and back pain sharing similar pathways of inflammation, Caroline Sokol, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Assistant Physician at Massachusetts General Hospital says that she “knows of no evidence that scientifically links back pain to seasonal allergies.” 

But that doesn’t mean that back pain can’t result from the myriad symptoms you’re already experiencing from seasonal allergies. Or if you have an existing back condition, those allergies could worsen it. Dr. Sokol says, “Seasonal allergies can certainly exacerbate chronic pain and back pain in particular due to coughing and sneezing.”

Although seasonal allergies don’t directly cause backaches, they could have an effect on lasting chronic pain overall. 

“We have growing evidence that sensory neurons, specifically those that induce pain and itch sensations, directly detect allergens and initiate allergic immune responses,” Dr. Sokol says. “Could the same overactive neurons that induce the initiation of allergic immunity ultimately induce chronic pain? That is a very interesting and important question that right now we are investigating in the lab.” 

How to Feel Better

If you are experiencing back pain simultaneously with your seasonal allergies, Dr. Sokol recommends treating your allergy symptoms as best you can. 

She says, “The last thing you want to do is have to deal with sneezing or coughing when you have back pain.” 

Dr. Sokol suggests taking over-the-counter antihistamines, specifically ones like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine), and Claritin (loratadine). She also advises using nasal steroid sprays. 

“These agents work incredibly well for allergies, but can take a few days to start kicking in, so it is always better to start before your allergies start,” she notes. 

If these over-the-counter methods just aren’t cutting it, it might be time to see your doctor. 

“There are additional medications that are available by prescription as well as allergy shots,” Dr. Sokol says. 

The Bottom Line

Dr. Sokol shares her words of wisdom: “Seasonal allergies can make people feel horrible— achy, tired, and out of it. This is because all of these non-specific symptoms are evidence that your immune system is working hard. But with allergies as opposed to viruses or vaccines, all that immune system activation is harmful, not helpful. You don’t have to suffer with allergies on top of back pain. Talk to your doctor and see your allergist for help.”

Updated on: 04/20/21
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