Learning to Pay Attention to the ‘Histamine Flicker’
I was surprised to discover a link between my chronic runny nose and Parkinson’s disease (PD) while I was doing research on the effect of over-the-counter antihistamines on PD medications.
I have always thought that my chronic runny nose was because of allergies. I sneeze when I walk down the laundry soap aisle in the grocery store, or when the mold count gets high, which happens quite often in this part of the country. But the sudden onset of a chronic runny nose has turned out to be much more than allergies. Since being diagnosed with PD seven years ago, my nose drips a lot! I call this the “histamine flicker.”
For years, I took a daily over-the-counter antihistamine medication to control my runny nose. After reading that some PD patients respond poorly to this treatment, I stopped taking it. It really wasn’t working anyway.
But I noticed that two things happened. First, my pain decreased considerably — a surprise gift! Second, the histamine flicker effect was quite intense for several weeks. After discontinuing using antihistamines every day for seven years, I experienced a “Niagara Falls nose” as my body adjusted to the change.
There wasn’t much research on PD and chronic runny nose, or rhinorrhea, until a 2008 study published in the journal Movement Disorders that associated the phenomenon with olfactory impairment. A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience also linked runny nose and PD, but it concluded that there was no significant impact on the sense of smell. A 2011 study, also in Movement Disorders, found rhinorrhea to be a common non-dopaminergic feature of PD, but noted that it was unrelated to both olfactory or motor deficits.
Well, I haven’t lost all of my sense of smell, but my nasal dripping has increased in some unusual situations.
I seem to have a connection between insomnia and my histamine flare. I have a hyper-arousal “time to wake up!” event that happens around 11 p.m., and lasts no more than 15 minutes. It makes falling asleep a chore. I had to shift my bedtime because of this histamine flicker, but it’s a minor inconvenience and it’s manageable. I have also experienced a rapid-fire histamine flicker when I’m passing a kidney stone, or after an orgasm.
Histamine was first identified in the brain about 50 years ago, but only in the last few years have researchers gained an understanding about how it regulates sleep/wake behavior.
For me, the histamine flicker has become an alarm that alerts me to physical issues that I am not attending to, like a biofeedback system. If I don’t attend to my PD self-management program, then the histamine flicker effects worsen. Slowly, patiently, I’m learning how to hear the low-intensity histamine flicker.
Precursor sensations tell me a histamine flicker is about to happen. A subtle little change, like feeling flushed, or a slight increase in a drippy nose, signals something is out of balance. It is so much easier to manage when I use the precursor sensation to catch it early.
I am still new at using PD symptoms as a form of biofeedback. It works for me because I have a mental model based on the spectrum stage theory and malfunctions in the second dopamine center, which exhibit as dysregulation in homeostasis. This map not only helps explain what is happening, but it also offers me a different path for self-management. I can shift my perspective on the constantly annoying dripping and see it as something helpful: a biofeedback tool.
And please hand me another Kleenex!
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