I get hay fever and when I sneeze 5, 6 or 8 times in a row, I’m not so much as looking for a napkin as looking around the room for a reaction.
When I was 14, I trained myself to sneeze quietly during allergy season – I wanted to be as inconspicuous as I could. My anxiety flared up every time I sneezed too much, just as the rest of my body showed signs of allergic rhinitis or hay fever, one of the most common allergies around.
Turns out, a recent study covered by Medical News Today found a “positive association between anxiety and seasonal allergies” and explained a potential reason for my odd behaviour.
According to WebMD too, there may even be a link between seasonal allergies and depression.
Paul Marshall, a clinical neurophysiologist at Minneapolis’ Hennepin County Medical Center said that while there is no causal relationship between the two, “I think it’s accurate to characterize allergies as a risk factor for depression.”
Any Merit in the Depression-Allergy Link?
Speaking to FIT, Dr Kaushik Sinha Deb, a psychiatrist from AIIMS first explains the science of an allergy, “Allergies are hyper inflammatory reactions to normal substances.”
There is an accepted theory of depression that says that it could be caused because of an inflammatory disorder, adds Dr Deb, “so there may be an inflammatory connection, but to say that they are directly linked is an oversimplification.”
Dr Sameer Malhotra, a psychiatrist at Max Healthcare, tells FIT that, “during any mental illness, our immune system gets disturbed and there is a definite mind-body link.” But there has not been enough research to make clear the connection yet.
In India, the reported cases of allergic rhinitis sits between 20-30% but this number is rapidly growing.
"I have patients who come to me for psychological treatments, and I often refer them to a dermatologist to help with their physical symptoms and this helps with their mental illness too." - Sameer Malhotra
Malhotra adds that skin allergies can be associated to stress and this can cause mental health issues.
“Plus, there is an underlying neruo-chemical connect in both allergies and mental health problems,” but again, no clear or direct link.
Depression or Feeling Low? Not The Same Thing
Every time I get a cold, I feel low and tired. But is this general health sickness malaise linked to depression?
A 2002 study found that people with allergies during summer were more fatigued and lethargic, which given their physical state due to the allergies makes sense.
Richard Lockey, professor of medicine and director of the allergy and immonology division the University of South Florida College of Medicine said that again, there might be no causality.
"If you can’t breathe through your nose, if you have headaches, if you can’t sleep well at night, there’s a good chance you’re going to feel depressed." - Richard Lockey
Besides the medicines taken for allergies may make you feel drowsy and fatigued as well.
All of these factors do contribute to a wrecked sleep cycle, and there are more definitive links between sleep disorders and increased risks of depression. Plus, feeling physically low tends to make one feel depressed.
But depression is an mental illness, beyond a feeling a being low or irritable.
In short, one can feel depressed but having depression is a medical condition and there has not been any substantial studies linking depression to allergies yet.
“Mental illness is multifaceted, and there is hardly every just one cause. For example, childhood stress is closely linked to depression, but there is no causal connect,” adds Deb.
This also means that while treating your allergies may help with your general mood, depression is an issue that needs to be treated on its own.
So while experts suggest a link, there is a need to delve deeper into the subject with more nuanced research.
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