If you’re one who suffers from allergies, you’d know that suffering really is the right word. A congested nose, postnasal drip, itchy skin, and watery eyes are so much fun, said no one ever. However, did you know that research has found an actual link between mental health and allergies?
What Causes Allergies?
Allergies come in all shapes and sizes. They arise when your immune system reacts to a foreign invader to your body, such as pollen or dust. The response of your immune system is what causes the typical allergy symptoms, including:
- Runny, congested nose
- Tingling mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Flaky or reddened skin
There are a variety of allergens that a person can react to, including pet dander, drugs, molds, foods, or insect stings. Allergic reactions can range from a mild irritation (such as a sniffly nose) to a life-threatening anaphylactic emergency.
Understandably, experiencing a life-threatening anaphylactic emergency is enough to shake anyone’s mental health. However, even milder forms of allergy, such as hay fever, have been found to have links to poorer emotional wellbeing.
The Link Between Allergies and Mental Health
Various studies have looked into how allergies can affect mental health. The research suggests that people living with allergies also experience a greater risk of mental illness compared to those without allergies. Although there is a relationship between the two, there is no strong evidence that the relationship is causal – that is, that having one causes the other, even at a genetic level.
One study out of the UK found:
- Asthma, atopic dermatitis, general allergies, and hay fever are strongly associated with depression
- Atopic dermatitis is strongly linked with anxiety, with asthma and hay fever having a weaker association
- Asthma and general allergies increased the risk of bipolar disorder
- Asthma, general allergies, and atopic dermatitis are linked to neuroticism
Interestingly, an association was also noted between schizophrenia and hay fever. However, this relationship was found to be a protective one, meaning that schizophrenia was less likely in people with hay fever (probably the only benefit of hay fever).
Other research has found that seasonal allergies are associated with an increased risk of mood disorders and even eating disorders.
Another aspect to consider is how allergy can impact a person’s daily life beyond just allergy symptoms. For example, many people with allergies feel the need to minimize or downplay their condition because of fear of judgment by friends, family, or in the workplace. Allergies may also cause people to avoid certain social interactions or social settings, or have negative effects on work performance, which can impact emotional wellbeing.
In children, asthma and allergies have been linked to an increased risk of various mental health and behavioral problems compared to their peers without allergy. These can include learning disabilities, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Are You Doomed to the Allergy Blues Forever?
Since there’s no known causative link between allergies and mental illness, it’s difficult to say that treating one condition is going to help the other. However, you can consider addressing each one individually.
Take steps to manage your allergy symptoms. This can look like simply using over-the-counter allergy relief medications, such as nasal sprays or antihistamine tablets. However, be aware that there is evidence suggesting that some medications used for allergy can actually exacerbate your poor mental health. Inhaled and injected corticosteroid medications have been linked with manic and depressive mood disorders, though this has not been found with topical corticosteroids. You may also want to consider visiting an allergist who can conduct further testing to identify your specific allergens and help you manage them.
Other solutions for helping alleviate your allergies can include:
- Regularly washing your bedding to remove dust mites and pet dander
- Avoid providing conditions for mold to grow in your house
- Don’t let your pets sleep in your bed
- Regularly wash other fabrics throughout the house that may be accumulating dust or pet dander, including rugs and cushion covers
- Use an air filter in your home
- Avoid your allergy triggers where possible, such as a certain park during a certain season if you know the trees and grasses there don’t agree with you
- Ensure your waiter or dinner party host knows you have certain food allergies
There is also help available if you feel you are suffering from a mental disorder. The interventions can vary depending on the type and severity of your situation. For example, you may consider simply taking a mental health day to relax doing something you enjoy. Conversely, if you have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, such as schizophrenia, you may need medical treatment and closer monitoring by an experienced doctor. If you’re experiencing anxiety or depression, you can also consider:
- Speaking to a counsellor or psychiatrist
- Learning meditative techniques
- Using physical exercise as a way to boost your happy hormones
- Learning other coping strategies
Although knowing that there’s a link between mental illness and allergies won’t necessarily help you treat one or the other, it can help to know that you may be at an increased risk of low mood if you know you also have allergies. Understanding this can help you to recognize what you’re feeling sooner, and let you get help sooner.