Although some people highly anticipate the warmth and beauty of the coming spring, for others, nature’s season of renewal brings feelings of dread. From watery, itchy eyes, and a constantly dripping nose, to nonstop sneezing and coughing, people with seasonal allergies may view spring as the season of suffering. Research has revealed that about 36 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies that can cause not only physical side effects, but mental ones as well.
If you suffer from the blues during allergy season, it may offer some comfort to know that there are physiological explanations for your low mood. According to Dr. Paul Marshall, neuropsychologist at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, research has shown that a person who suffers from allergies has about twice the risk the for depression than that of a person who has no allergies. In addition, people who have sought the help of an allergist for relief of their symptoms have about triple odds for developing depression.
During an allergic reaction, small cell-signaling protein molecules known as cytokins signal the brain and cause flu-like feelings of illness and lethargy. Marshall explained that although the cytokine release isn’t as powerful in the case of allergies as with the flu, it is still present. Previous studies have shown that the allergic reactions affect academic performance as well as job performance. In addition, the use of antihistamines for symptom relief may contribute to sleep disturbances and drowsiness. Therefore, the low moods experienced by some allergy sufferers may be due to either their allergy symptoms, or side effects of medications, or both.
Marshall acknlowledged that although studies don’t show that having allergies causes clinical depression, mood changes associated with allergies can include mild depressive symptoms such as feelings of sadness, and experiencing lethargy and fatigue. He pointed out that “It's important for people to understand that experiencing allergies can affect their mood.” For example, some people may find themselves feeling mentally drained, ill, or more likely to cry during allergy season. And for those with clinical depression, symptoms may intensify.
Back in 2000, Marshall was associated with a study that found that allergic reactions could actually slow the speed of cognitive processing. In a 2002 study led by Marshall, findings showed that allergic reactions to ragweed pollen could cause significant fatigue and mood changes in some patients.
Not eveyone who suffers from allergies also suffer from depression. However, even though allergies do not necessarily cause depression, having them appears to be a risk factor for developing depressive symptoms, especially those physiological in nature such as low energy.
If you suffer from allergies, what can you do? For some, the side effects of medications can make it seem that “the cure is worse than the condition,” such as with the drowsiness, insomnia and irritability that can be experienced with the use of antihistamines. For some, allergy shots can lead to long-term symptom relief, but even they are not an option for everyone. Recent trials have shown promise for oral drops of allergens placed under the tongue and in the nose but as of yet, these therapies are not available in the United States.
For severe symptoms, an allergist can help you to find the solution that works best for you. In addition, there are steps you can take to minimize your suffering. During allergy season, check local pollen conditions prior to spending time outdoors. After being outside, shower, wash your hair, and change into fresh clothing to shed the pollen you may bring indoors. Another helpful idea is to wash your bedding often to minimize pollen contact.