For those who suffer from seasonal allergies, physical symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, and itchy, watery eyes can be a nuisance. However, recent studies have shown that allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, can also be linked to mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
Dr. David A. Gudis, chief of the division of rhinology and anterior skull base surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, has emphasized that this connection is often overlooked, even among healthcare practitioners. Given that millions of Americans suffer from seasonal allergies, it is important for both doctors and patients to understand this link so that any mental health concerns can be addressed and treated effectively.
Allergic rhinitis is a chronic inflammatory disease, and experts believe that inflammation is to blame for the link between allergies and mood disorders. When someone is allergic to a specific allergen, such as tree pollen, the allergen can reach the membranes lining the nose and prompt the immune system to release cytokines, which are proteins that fight certain infections. These cytokines can then activate areas of the brain that regulate depression and anxiety.
While there is no direct evidence of this in human studies, research has been conducted on rodents to better understand the mechanisms at play. In a study of mice and rats, researchers found that repeatedly exposing the rodents’ noses to allergens resulted in an increase in cytokine production in their brains, as well as higher levels of stress hormones. The rodents also showed signs of anxiety.
Multiple studies have suggested a connection between allergic rhinitis and mood disorders. Studies in the United States, for example, have found that allergy sufferers are around one and a half times more likely to have major depression, especially among women. Observational studies have also associated allergic rhinitis with a higher risk of anxiety. Researchers in Taiwan have reported that allergic rhinitis is associated with a higher risk of psychiatric disorders in adults. Additionally, a small number of studies have suggested a potential link between high pollen counts and suicide risk, though more research is needed.
If you are unsure whether your allergy symptoms are affecting your mood, it is essential to speak with your allergist or primary care provider right away. Be specific about your symptoms and their duration, and mention any changes in sleep, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, or any other changes in behavior. While treating allergy symptoms is crucial for relief, certain medications used to treat allergies can also affect mood. Antihistamines such as NyQuil or Benadryl can be sedating and cause feelings of disorientation, while oral corticosteroids like prednisone can cause irritability and increase the risk of anxiety or depression. Nasal decongestants such as Sudafed and Sudafed PE can cause anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia. Additionally, patients should be aware of the potential risks associated with the allergy and asthma drug Singulair, which was given a warning by the Food and Drug Administration in 2020 about the potential for serious changes in behavior and mood, as well as suicide.
In conclusion, while seasonal allergies can be miserable and affect physical well-being, it is essential to recognize the potential link between allergic rhinitis and mood disorders. Speak with your doctor if you are experiencing changes in mood, and be aware of the potential effects of allergy medications on mood. Addressing both physical and mental health concerns can lead to the best possible treatment outcomes for those who suffer from seasonal allergies.