It’s springtime, which means your allergies may already be causing a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and coughing. They aren’t just an annoyance, many doctors believe there is a connection between allergies and mood.
For some, seasonal allergies do more than just cause crankiness. A study from The American Journal of Epidemiology showed that those who suffer from allergies are nearly 50% more likely to experience depression. If you’ve visited an allergist that likelihood almost triples, according to Dr. Paul Marshall, neuropsychologist at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. These connections don’t necessarily mean that allergies directly cause clinical depression, but there is a correlation.
Allergy-related mood changes are usually characterized by symptoms like sadness, lethargy and fatigue. Allergies could aggravate these symptoms in a person with clinical depression.
“It’s important for people to understand that experiencing allergies can affect their mood,” Dr. Marshall said.
This doesn’t mean all people with allergies have depression or that people with depression have allergies, but experiencing allergic reactions does seem to be a risk factor for developing depression. It doesn’t necessarily trigger the emotional side of the condition, but rather the physiological symptoms, such as low energy.
What happens during an allergic reaction?
During an allergic reaction, your body’s immune system responds by releasing cytokines, which are protein molecules used in communication between cells. The cytokines signal the brain and induce feelings of sickness that might often accompany the flu.
A 2002 study from Psychosomatic Medicine, led by Dr. Marshall, found that allergic reactions to ragweed pollen caused “significant fatigue and mood changes” in at least some patients. Research that Dr. Marshall collaborated on in 2000 also found that such reactions could cause slowed speed of cognitive processing.
Dr. Teodor Postolache at the University of Maryland led a review published in 2008 on the association between suicidal indicators and allergies. Dr. Postolache’s group noted a peak in suicide rates from April to June, during which the environment changes dramatically due to pollen. The researchers found correlations between depression measurements and allergy symptoms in relation to the seasonal severity of tree pollen.
What kind of treatment is available for me?
An oral or topical over-the-counter anti-histamine should be enough to relieve allergy symptoms. For people looking for a more long-term solution, ask your doctor about allergy shots - in these small amounts of an allergen are given intraveniously every few months. The amount of the allergen is gradually increased. This builds up immunity which can last for 3-5 years.