Allergies and Mental Health: What's the Link?

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Itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and fatigue symptoms brought on by hay fever can cause anyone to feel miserable. But are seasonal allergies tied to your mental health?

Researchers seem to think so.  A recent study of more than 9,200 individuals, called Seasonal Allergies and Psychiatric Disorders in the United States, was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. People with lifelong allergies had 28% greater odds of reporting mood disorders, 43% greater odds of reporting anxiety disorders, and 38% greater odds of reporting eating disorders than individuals who did not have allergies, its authors reported.

It’s far too soon to call it a cause and effect relationship.

Dysregulated immune function, or immune system dysfunction, could be one pathway that contributes to allergies. This could also lead to some types of psychiatric disorders, says Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar, a psychiatry and behavioral sciences expert at the University of Miami Health System.

“Other explanations are also possible,” says Dr. Dhabhar. “This study has established a link between allergies and psychiatric disorders, as have other studies. It would be helpful to replicate these findings and understand underlying biological mechanisms, especially if this was done in a way that identifies targets for treatments and interventions that will benefit patients.”

Your body’s immune system reacts to allergens, like pollen, by producing antibodies and activating immune cells.

allergies and mental health

This can cause inflammation in your nasal linings, in the tissue around your eyes, or in other places, he says. Dr. Dhabhar and his research collaborators have published two papers in which data suggests a relationship between inflammation and mental health.

“We found that compared to non-depressed individuals, those with depression have higher levels of factors in their blood that can contribute to inflammation. Other groups have also published similar findings,” says Dr. Dhabhar.

“Moreover, patients such as those with psoriasis and other autoimmune diseases often experience depression," he says. "Depression could be driven by the understandable difficulties, fears, and challenges of living with an autoimmune disease. And by inflammatory factors (released as a consequence of autoimmune reactions) that, in turn, act on the brain to induce depression.”

Another study, Dr. Dhabhar’s colleague, Dr. Andrew Miller and his team, looked at depressed patients with higher levels of inflammation who were treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. They found that an extra response piqued their interest:

The patients experienced less depression.

“While all these findings are promising, more research needs to be completed,” says Dr. Dhabhar.

“For instance, this study reported that atopic dermatitis (eczema) and allergic rhinitis (hay fever) were associated with a lower risk of a psychiatric disorder. The other allergic conditions studied were associated with a higher risk. This difference, if replicated, could provide clues needed for a deeper understanding of mechanisms, which is important for finding better treatments.”

If you seek help with anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders, request an appointment online or call us today at 305-355-9028.

John Senall is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. He is a former hospital and comprehensive cancer center communications director.

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