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FAQ: Can Allergies Increase Your Risk Of Depression?

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When the pollen count rises, allergy sufferers might sense a little sadness in the air — and not just from the hefty cost of Claratin ($25 a box — really?). While there’s no conclusive evidence that allergies cause psychological distress, recent studies show that allergy sufferers do appear to be at a higher risk of depression [1].

Sad In The Springtime – Why It Matters

It’s no secret that seasonal allergies, which affect approximately 1 in 5 Americans, can bring on sleeplessness, headaches, and fatigue — a decidedly mood-busting bunch. But is there more to it than that?

Researchers found that allergic reactions release protein molecules called cytokines in the body [2]. These essential intercellular communicators (usually present to help trigger inflammation and respond to infections) also reduce levels of serotonin, the “happiness hormone,” disrupting those feel-good vibes [3] [4]

One study shows that the risk of depression in severe allergy sufferers is about twice that of those who breathe easy [1]. Even worse, research suggests the allergy-mood link might even help explain the increase in suicides during the spring [6]. Hardly the brightest news — we know.

Mood Busters – The Answer/Debate

Of course, not everyone with allergies suffers from depression. And those who do, might simply have their allergy medicine to blame. Research shows that antihistamines (the main ingredient in most commercial allergy medicines) can bring on drowsiness and dry mouth, whereas corticosteroid medications (like cortisone, hydrocortisone, and prednisone) have side effects including mood swings, weight gain, and headaches, just to name a few.

Sound like there’s no way to find that happy place again? If over-the-counter help isn’t flying, neti-pots and other nasal rinses may offer some relief. Unfortunately the only long-term solution right now is immunotherapy (allergy shots), which — over time — can desensitize the body to pesky allergens. Just be sure to get the facts from a certified allergist first.

If you’re stuck in an allergy rut and looking for an alternative way out, try these tips to minimize pollen exposure:

  • Keep house and car windows closed to prevent pollen from drifting in.
  • Minimize outdoor activity between 5 and 10 AM and on windy days, when the pollen count is usually at its highest.
  • Use an air conditioner and a dehumidifier to keep air clean, cool, and dry.
  • Remove shoes to avoid tracking pollen indoors. Clothes can also collect pollen, so consider changing them after long periods outside.
  • Keep that lawn growing long— running the lawn mower just kicks up all that pesky pollen!
  • Refrain from hanging the laundry out to dry, where it can collect pollen in between its fibers.
  • And finally, an excuse for that Hawaiian vacation: areas near the ocean often have much lower pollen counts. See how your city ranks here.
Whether it’s soccer, basketball, or figure skating, I’ve always turned to sports to satisfy my need for fun, fitness, and a healthy dose of... Read More »

Works Cited

  1. Changes in allergy symptoms and depression scores are positively correlated in patients with recurrent mood disorders exposed to seasonal peaks in aeroallergens. Postolache, TT., Lapidus, M., Sander, ER., et al. Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland. Scientific World Journal 2007 December 17; 7: 1968-77.
  2. A meta-analysis of cytokines in major depression. Dowlati, Y., Herrmann, N., Swardfager, W., et al. Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Biological Psychiatry 2010 March 1; 67(5): 446-57.
  3. The functions of cytokines and their uses in toxicology. Foster, JR. Safety Assessment, AstraZeneca PLC, Alderley Park, Macclesfield, Cheshire, United Kingdom. International Journal of Experimental Pathology 2001 June; 82(3): 171-92.
  4. Cytokines and major depression. Schiepers, OJ., Wichers, MC., Maes, M. Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacol & Biological Psychiatry 2005 February; 29(2): 201-17.
  5. Changes in allergy symptoms and depression scores are positively correlated in patients with recurrent mood disorders exposed to seasonal peaks in aeroallergens. Postolache, TT., Lapidus, M., Sander, ER., et al. Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland. Scientific World Journal 2007 December 17; 7: 1968-77.
  6. Allergy: a risk factor for suicide? Postolache, TT., Komarow, H., Tonelli, LH. Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland. Current Treatment Options in Neurology 2008 September; 10(5): 363-76.