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Allergy

15 October 2018

Feeling down during spring? Blame your seasonal allergies

You might be surprised that not everyone is uplifted by the arrival of warmer weather. There might be a real link between seasonal allergies and depression.

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Everyone around you is full of the joys of spring – you, on the other hand, are feeling down in the dumps… and congested.

The warmer months are not pleasant for everyone, especially those who suffer from seasonal allergies, otherwise known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis. Not only do the constant sneezing, congestion, headaches and coughing drive you up the wall and make you feel a bit rough physically, but it has been shown that it can also affect your mood.

A study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology shows that people who suffer from seasonal allergies are 50% more likely to experience bouts of depression. Allergy-related mood changes are characterised by sadness, irritability, lethargy and fatigue.

Although the study pinpoints clear connections, this doesn’t mean that all people with seasonal allergies always have depression. Experiencing allergy symptoms simply increases the risk factor of developing depression.

The connections are not only between emotional symptoms but also physiological symptoms that can sometimes be linked to depression, such as low energy. “It’s important for people to understand that experiencing allergies can affect their mood,” says Dr Paul Marshall, neuropsychologist at Henepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, USA.

How can allergies affect your mood?

The constant headaches, sniffling and general discomfort are enough to make you feel down in the dumps while everyone else is out there enjoying the warmer days. There is, however, also a definite biological link between allergy symptoms and your mood.

The study explains it as follows: During an allergic reaction, the body’s immune system will respond by the release of a substance called cytokines, which are protein molecules that communicate with cells. These cells send a signal to the brain, which induces feelings of general malaise, sickness and fatigue.

A much earlier study published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2002, also led by Dr Marshall, showed the link between suicidal indicators and allergies. This study pointed out that suicide rates would peak from April to June (springtime in USA, where the study subjects were done), a time when pollen levels increase dramatically. There were clear correlations between depression symptoms and allergy symptoms during the allergy season.

Not only are these cytokines responsible for making you feel down, but it’s also likely that your seasonal allergy symptoms make it harder for you to sleep, which is also a contributing factor to depression, according to Psychology Today.

What can I do?

"The key to surviving spring allergies is knowing what triggers your allergy symptoms," Dr James Sublett, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, said in a college press release.

If you know that the pollen and weather changes in spring time trigger your symptoms, you can take these measures:

  • Try an over-the-counter remedy for allergies and seasonal sinusitis to keep symptoms at bay.
  • Try steaming, nasal irrigation or using a neti pot.
  • Start taking any antihistamines or natural remedies weeks before the warmer weather is expected as these often take a while to start working.
  • Change your outdoor exercise routine if possible – aim for early mornings before dawn and early evenings, when the pollen count in the air is lower.
  • Vacuum often to get rid of pollen spores that could have been carried in.
  • Shower and change your clothes as soon as you get home.

Fight the blues

While it’s easier said than done, there are things you can do to stabilise or elevate your mood during times when you experience allergy symptoms:

  • Get enough sleep to keep your energy levels up.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and try to avoid e.g. processed foods that can trigger inflammation in the body.
  • Limit your alcohol intake as this might aggravate your symptoms.
  • Talk to your doctor about adjusting your allergy medication if you can no longer keep your symptoms in check.

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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