This is a concept that has been zig-zagging through my head for the past while. Honestly, it was more a group of concepts, but one key trigger seems to be bringing the situation into clearer focus. I’m not a doctor, but I think this theory bears investigation.
Allergy symptoms I have experienced:
- Runny nose and clogged sinuses
- Tight, dry, itchy skin
- Nerve pain in upper arms, making skin sensitive to the touch
- General, extreme fatigue, sometimes being exhausted by 3 pm even after going to bed at 12 am and sleeping until 11 am
- General feeling of unwellness like the flu, complete with muscle ache and feeling slightly feverish even though I have no fever
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Headaches in the sinus areas
- Lymph node swelling
- Acute joint pain
- Prolonged pain in the muscles/skin/joints/nonspecific bone areas, including ache, tightness, and a feeling almost of strained soft tissue, especially when getting up from a seated position. This lasted for a month before I changed the materials I was wearing enough to stop the reaction.
All of these symptoms have cleared with removal of the allergen from my clothing and from my environment, as well as standard allergy treatments like topical medications, washing off the allergen, and sinus irrigation. I’ve also begun to wonder recently about whether the occasional irritable bowels I experience are related to my allergies. While wearing a pair of pants with a polyester satin waistband for a few days, my stomach experienced cramping and intestinal discomfort. Upon stopping wearing the pants, these digestive symptoms stopped, including the pain I’d been experiencing on the top of my hips, at the bottom of my rib cage, and in my gluteus minimus, gluteus median, and sciatic muscles. Three years ago, this contact wouldn’t have overtly been an issue, but now the connection is a lot more obvious, and the symptoms more severe. Allergies tend to work that way, with continued exposure causing more sensitivity to the allergen and larger reactions over time. I also have intolerances to egg and dairy. I’ve been wondering if reducing my allergen load has slightly decreased my sensitivity to small amounts of these ingredients, because I managed to eat a couple of “may contain” items I never could have touched before. Then again, I could have gotten lucky, with “may contain” meaning “could contain but doesn’t contain in this instance,” especially since a salad whose almonds “may have contained” milk left me bloated for two days.
A friend posted recently about having a fibromyalgia flare, and a lot of information was posted in that thread by various friends of hers. The friend said that allergy medication helped relieve symptoms more than pain medication. Another said that the easiest way she can describe having a fibromyalgia flare was that she felt like she had the flu, but with no cold. I started wondering about fibromyalgia. This is what I discovered:
- Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is not fully understood. It is a concurrence of a set of symptoms that appear to doctors to be related to the amplification of how the brain processes pain symptoms. It can occur after a trauma, surgery, infection, or period of stress, or build gradually. It is often hereditary, more common in women than men, and frequently occurs with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
- Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Widespread musculoskeletal pain, often a constant, dull ache, over an extended period of time (months)
- Fatigue, even after sleeping for a long time, and other sleeping issues like restless legs and sleep apnea
- Cognitive difficulties, often described as a fog, making activities difficult.
- Depression and anxiety (often from the stress of suffering the symptoms and trying to get help from the not-well-understood condition)
- Headaches and migraines
- Pain or cramping in the lower abdomen
- Fibromyalgia sufferers often also have related symptoms such as food intolerance or celiac, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), dry, itchy skin and rashes, and even chemical sensitivity. (Reference: Overlapping and Related Conditions)
- Fibromyalgia tends to become more difficult to treat as time goes by. It is believed that the brain becomes more sensitive to pain signals and that pain is triggered at lower levels of stimulation of the nerves.
- Fibromyalgia is treated with pain medication, antidepressants, physical therapy, aerobic exercise, relaxation, and stress reduction.
- There is no definitive test for fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is diagnosed after ruling out other conditions (which conditions seems to depend on the doctor or specialist you see), on the presence of pain over an extended period of time. If fibromyalgia sufferers have allergy tests, it does not mean that they have comprehensive allergy testing. They may simply have a skin prick and blood test, or even only one of those. Most chemical allergies are diagnosed through comprehensive patch testing, which is much less frequently offered.
How Might They Connect?
I can’t say I’m depressed or in a fog, because I truly don’t know what that means. There are weeks when doing anything is tough, and when I worry about my symptoms and “seize up.” There are days my brain can’t get beyond playing games on a tablet. I can’t say I have IBS, but I do have some of the symptoms. I probably have more than enough symptoms of fibromyalgia to qualify for a diagnosis, except that allergy avoidance and treatment resolves my symptoms. Luckily I know my allergens, otherwise I would be feeling much, much worse. As I did before my patch testing, when I would be feeling achey and like I had the flu for up to two weeks out of every month, especially after a full day in the office. I experienced incredible anxiety over not knowing what was wrong with me or what to do about it, especially when my first doctor treated me like I was imagining my symptoms. Allergy symptoms are also said to lessen with physical activity (through increased metabolism and movement of bodily fluids, including lymph fluids and blood) and worsen with stress (through histamine release).
The crazy notion is this:
What if fibromyalgia isn’t a disease or disorder, but a set of allergy symptoms misdiagnosed?
What if even more of these “related diseases/syndromes” are actually also, at their root, an immune response to an allergy, directly connected to the body part in question or otherwise?
My proposed connection may seem farfetched because many doctors don’t even believe that allergies can cause systemic symptoms. I got lucky in finding a doctor who does. Many will at least agree that allergies are a result of immune system over-function, that is, the immune system overreacting to substances that are not overtly harmful but which the body views as invaders. I met one immunologist who wouldn’t even agree to that, or that lymph node activity could be caused by allergies. Yet search for “what do lymph nodes do” and you will quickly learn that lymph nodes work as filters for harmful substances and contain immune cells that help fight infection. Based on that definition lymph nodes could easily become involved in an immune response to an allergen, especially to a foreign chemical entering the body by some means (absorption through the skin, ingestion, inhalation, etc.). I know from groups with which I interact that I am not the only chemical allergy sufferer experiencing these kinds of symptoms.
Most of the conditions related to fibromyalgia are not well understood, including fibromyalgia itself, and medicine has instituted an avoid or treat the symptoms protocol, without necessarily understanding the mechanism that causes the condition in the first place. Probably the majority of fibromyalgia sufferers have not had comprehensive patch testing or other allergy testing. I’m not minimizing any of these disorders. Look at my list of symptoms at the top of this post and you’ll quickly see I’ve been subject to some pretty debilitating allergy symptoms, most of them described in the fibromyalgia symptoms as well. Allergies can be very nasty things, and I know how badly these symptoms can interfere with everyday life.
I think this is a study that needs to happen. What if a doctor could get a lot of fibromyalgia sufferers, and maybe some patients with the other related disorders, and do comprehensive allergy testing on them (patch test, skin prick, and more)? Treat the allergies that are diagnosed and provide information to the patients to help them avoid the allergens. How many would have their symptoms clear up? If there is a doctor out there willing to get on board with this, I would be happy to provide information about my allergy symptoms and what causes/relieves them as possible directions for investigation. Please contact me via this site.
Do you have fibromyalgia or a related disorder and have allergy treatments and protocols helped you? Have you had patch testing or other allergy testing? Do you know/are you a doctor who would be interested in investigating this further? Comment below.