The short answer to this question is yes, allergies can cause a feeling of heaviness in the chest. What is commonly called heaviness or tightness in the chest is a feeling of heavy pressure on the chest accompanied by limited breathing. It is a disconcerting feeling, even if it is not a sign of a heart attack or severe allergic reaction.
The long answer to this question is that allergies are just one of the possible causes of the feeling of heaviness in the chest. There are other medical conditions that can cause this symptom, including conditions related to the heart. If the feeling of tightness or heaviness in the chest is new or inexplicable you should check it with a doctor immediately.
One in 12 Americans suffers from asthma, and almost 4,000 people die each year from complications related to asthma.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Allergy by inhalation
Anything that triggers asthma symptoms, including mold and pet dander, can result in chest tightness, as well as difficulties when breathing and wheezing. The airways of people with allergic asthma become inflamed more than usual when they encounter an allergen. This inflammation reduces the airways, prevents breathing and produces an alarming feeling of not getting enough air. A common consequence of this serious fact is the feeling of heaviness in the chest.
Unfortunately, asthma is a relatively common disease in the United States, and the number of people affected by it increases every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in 12 Americans suffers from asthma, and almost 4,000 people die each year from complications related to asthma. Of the 25 million cases of asthma in the United States, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that approximately 50% are induced by allergies.
Another condition related to allergies that produces symptoms of chest pain or tightness is anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal reaction caused by an allergy to a drug, food, insect, or latex. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, this type of reaction can occur minutes after exposure to an allergen.
This severe reaction is not as rare as once thought. A review of the medical literature up to 2001 published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that between 1, 2 and 15% of the population of the United States is affected by anaphylaxis. The same study showed that every year, allergies to penicillin kill 400 Americans, food allergies kill more than 200, insect allergies close to 100, and approximately 10 deaths each year are due to latex allergies.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis
In addition to the feeling of heaviness in the chest, difficulty in breathing and whistling, anaphylaxis can produce symptoms that affect other organs besides the lungs. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases lists the following symptoms:
• Itching and redness in the skin that can swell and develop hives • Congested nose • Itching in the mouth along with inflamed lips or tongue • Swelling, itching and feeling throat tightness • Poor circulation, which can cause dizziness • Stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea • Low blood pressure
Heaviness in the chest, difficulty breathing, and other symptoms of anaphylaxis must be controlled by a doctor or in the emergency room. If the victim has an epinephrine injector, the medication must be injected into the thigh muscle immediately. Call 911 and take the person to a hospital emergency room as quickly as possible.
About the author
Boyan Hadjiev, MD, has practiced medicine for five years. He has a double certification in Internal Medicine (2003) and Allergy and Immunology (2005).
Dr. Hadjiev graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in biology and an MD from the Cleveland Clinic-Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.