Is There a Link Between Allergies and Multiple Sclerosis?

The science may say no, 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 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.

Is There a Link Between Multiple Sclerosis and Seasonal Allergies?

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 2011 review study in Acta Neurologica Scandinavica.

This all being said, one Italian 2009 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 protected 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. 

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.

The big picture here is that the relationship between allergies and MS is still being teased out, if there is one at all—the research is simply too conflicting at this time to say there is.

When Your Allergies Makes Your MS Worse

Despite the lack of strong scientific evidence supporting a link between allergies and MS, that does not mean a person cannot have both and find a link between the two in their own individual lives.

For instance, as a person with MS, I will assert that my seasonal allergies certainly make me feel worse. Whether these are pure allergy symptoms, or the allergies are making certain MS symptoms worse, doesn’t really matter to me. I just know that I feel much more “MS-y” than usual when my allergies are flaring:

Here are some symptoms among people who have allergies and MS that may overlap:

  • Fatigue: Allergies can make a person fatigued, as can MS. In fact, fatigue is one of the most common and most debilitating symptom 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.
  • Coughing: For some people, coughing may be a combination of allergies and MS symptoms. For example, my MS-related respiratory dysfunction is such that only the slightest thing (dryness, a slight chest cold, etc.) brings on a coughing fit, but with these allergies, it is pretty much constant when I am outside. Luckily, going inside allows me to get it under control and even have cough-free periods of an hour, here and there.

    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 have it.

    As a person with a chronic illness, you have to learn to trust your instinct and be good to yourself. With that, if 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. 

    Sources:

    Bourne T et al. Evaluating the association of allergies with multiple sclerosis susceptibility risk and disease activity in a pediatric population. J Neurol Sci. 2017 Apr 15;375:371-75.

    Monteiro L, Souza-Machado A, Menezes C, Melo A. Association between allergies and multiple sclerosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Neurol Scand. 2011 Jan;123(1):1-7.

    Pedotti R, Farinotti M, Falcone C, et. al. Allergy and multiple sclerosis: a population-based case-control study. Mult Scler. 2009 Aug;15(8):899-906.

    Continue Reading