Your body is an intricate network of organ systems that affect one another in a myriad of ways.  When one of these systems is damaged or impeded from performing optimally, it may influence other, seemingly unrelated systems in unexpected ways. That is why many people who experience seasonal allergies may simultaneously experience seasonal back pain.

In the most general terms, your seasonal back pain may be caused by an overload on your overall physiology, but there are many specific ways that allergic reactions may worsen back pain symptoms. If you are like many back pain sufferers, there are multiple causes of your back pain, from pinched nerves to prolonged muscle contraction.

Seasonal Allergies

Most commonly affecting people in the spring and early summer when plant pollination occurs, seasonal allergies are a physiological response to airborne allergens.  The most common symptoms associated with seasonal allergies include

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Itchy nose or throat
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Red or watery eyes

Almost eight percent of Americans will suffer from seasonal allergies, but doctors aren’t exactly sure why some people react this way while others don’t. It is believed that seasonal allergies are an overreaction by the immune system to environmental factors that are harmless but misidentified as dangerous. In many cases, there appears to be a strong hereditary component.

Seasonal Back Pain

There are a multitude of causes of back pain with some of the most prevalent including osteoarthritis, herniated disk or spinal stenosis. Unfortunately, many of these conditions worsen when the seasons change.  Most obviously, many people feel more powerful pain symptoms when the weather cools down, but a small number of people also experience worsening symptoms when warmer weather appears.

Back Pain and Allergies

For a select number of back pain sufferers, they have a particularly difficult time when pollen is in the air.  In many cases, there is an underlying back condition that is either acute or chronic, but this health condition is worsened by allergy symptoms. For others, seasonal back pain is specifically caused by the hay fever. 

There are many reasons why spring allergies may induce or worsen back pain, but here are some of the more supportable theories.

  • Joint pain—if you have ever had a bad case of the flu, you know that one of the symptoms can be aching joints. Surprisingly, this joint discomfort is not caused by the attacking virus, but it is actually your immune system. Similarly, when your immune system is fighting off allergens, immune factors like cytokines and interleukins that are intended to fight off foreign pathogens actually affect joints including those in the back.
  • Overactive nerves—part of the reason your back pain symptoms worsen during allergy season is that your nerves become more sensitive.  In the process of fighting off an infection, your immune system produces pyrogens, byproducts of cell death.  These pyrogens tend to accumulate around nerves and make them more sensitive to painful stimuli.
  • Physical stress—for many allergy sufferers, one of the most common symptoms of allergies is coughing.  Coughing is your body’s way of expelling foreign viruses, but it places a lot of stress on the epidural space, i.e. the fluid-filled space around your spine. It can also put more strain on already stressed back muscles. You should also be aware that attempts to divert unexpected sneezes or coughs may also place unnatural stress on your back.
  • Exhaustion—while it may not feel similar to running a marathon, dealing with seasonal allergies can be nearly as hard on your body. Not only are you expending a great deal of energy on your daily activities and staving off back pain, but your body must also contend with a host of foreign attackers. For many, this additional expenditure of energy makes it much more difficult to endure seasonal back pain symptoms.  It may be even more difficult if the allergy symptoms are interfering with your ability to get a good night’s rest as sleep is critical for healing and pain management.
  • Inflammation—another key component of the immune response is that it causes inflammation of skin, mucus pathways and joints.  If the cause of your back pain is a herniated disc or spinal stenosis which may involve compression of spinal nerves, there is likely to already be some swelling around spinal nerves.  Any additional inflammation would put more pressure on these nerves and produce even more pain.

How to Manage Seasonal Back Pain

In order to adequately manage your seasonal back pain, you must understand your back condition and how your allergies are impacting it.  That can only be determined by your doctor, so you should pay them a visit—preferably before the start of allergy season.

Once your doctor has identified the cause of your back pain, you can implement a pain management plan that may include one or more of the following:

  • Optimize your environment—you want to minimize the number of allergens around you, so you should remain indoors whenever possible. While indoors, keep doors and windows closed, use air conditioning instead of fans, and keep pets bathed and groomed.
  • Maintain back strength—exercise your back regularly so that your muscles remain strong and flexible. Check first with your doctor before beginning any exercise program to avoid additional injury.  Make exercise a habit, but don’t put too much strain on your back by going at it too hard.
  • Antihistamines—drugs that counteract the active ingredient of allergens called histamines can greatly reduce many seasonal allergy symptoms including swelling and mucus production. Some doctors may combine antihistamines with steroids to further reduce inflammation.
  • Pain medications—most physicians will recommend one kind of pain reliever or another. Depending on the severity of your pain symptoms, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol or Advil, or more potent pain killers like opioids.
  • Back surgery—if your condition is serious, you may want to discuss surgical options.  This may include procedures like a discectomy or spinal fusion.  You should only choose surgery if more conservative therapies have failed.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.