Sad in the spring? Allergy-mood link is real

You know spring has sprung when hundreds of people daily turn to Twitter to vent about their itchy eyes, dripping nos...

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 12:31 PM
Updated: Mar 23, 2018 12:31 PM

You know spring has sprung when hundreds of people daily turn to Twitter to vent about their itchy eyes, dripping nose and uncontrollable sneezing and coughing.

Seasonal allergies, which affect about 36 million Americans, aren't just an annoyance; many doctors agree that there is a real connection between allergies and mood.

Experiencing an allergic reaction is a risk factor for developing depression

Antihistamines can also contribute to sleep disturbances and grogginess

Allergy shots are the only long-term option for nixing the symptoms of allergies

"'Cranky' is really the best word for it," said Katie Ingram, 30, of Alexandria, Virginia, a triathlete who has seasonal allergies. "I take a lot of medication for it, and that makes me sleepy. And I can't do a lot of the things that I like to do outside, so that makes me cranky. ... The wheezing part of it makes me feel tired."

In some people, such annoyances are more serious. Research has shown that there is about a 50% increase in the risk for depression in a person suffering allergies, and if you've been seen by an allergist, that about triples the likelihood of having depression, said Dr. Paul Marshall, neuropsychologist at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Those are correlations found in scientific studies, but they don't show that allergies cause clinical depression. In practice, allergy-connected mood changes usually boil down to mild depressive symptoms, like feeling sad, lethargic and fatigued, Marshall said. Some people say they're more likely to cry during the allergy season. Allergies could make symptoms even worse in a person with clinical depression, experts say.

"It's important for people to understand that experiencing allergies can affect their mood," Marshall said.

That's not to say that all people with allergies have depression or that all people with depression have allergies. But experiencing allergic reactions does seem to be a risk factor for developing depression -- not necessarily the emotional side of the condition but more physiological symptoms such as low energy.

But is all of this in spite of the use of antihistamines or because of it? And is it the actual allergic reaction that causes these symptoms or just the sleep disturbances and general discomfort?

The biological response

An allergic reaction is an immune response that releases cytokines, protein molecules used in communication between cells. When they signal the brain, they induce the feelings of sickness, or being "mentally drained," that often accompany the flu. This cytokine release isn't as powerful in allergies, but it's still present, Marshall said.

A 2002 study Marshall led, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, found that allergic reactions to ragweed pollen cause "significant fatigue and mood changes" in at least some patients. Research that Marshall collaborated on in 2000 found that such reactions could cause slowed speed of cognitive processing.

Dr. Teodor Postolache at the University of Maryland led a review published in 2008 of the association between suicidal indicators and allergies. Postolache's group noted a peak in suicide rates from April to June and the dramatic environmental change of pollen that occurs during that time. The researchers found correlations between depression measurements and allergy symptoms in relation to the seasonal severity of tree pollen. In women, the association is stronger between allergy, depression and suicide than in men, perhaps because allergy and depression are more common in women anyway.

Postolache's group has also explored cytokines that may be involved in triggering fatigue, hypothesizing that the allergic reaction is the direct biological cause of low mood.

This parallels what happens when stress gets you down too, Marshall says.

A side effect?

Alternatively, low moods during allergy season could be situational -- the result of all the sneezing or side effects from medication.

Studies show that people don't perform as well at school because of allergic reactions, and adults' performance at work suffers, says allergist Dr. Robert Overholt of Knoxville, Tennessee. These problems could exacerbate depressive symptoms, he said. That, combined with sleep disturbance, could make people feel unwell.

Overholt doesn't believe the allergic response inherently triggers depression but says it could circumstantially make existing depression worse.

"It would jump onto depression but wouldn't be the cause," he said.

Antihistamines themselves can also contribute to sleep disturbances and grogginess, he said.

Side effects of allergy medications can contribute to irregular sleeping patterns that increase irritability. The major antihistamines in pill form are now sold over the counter -- Allegra, Claritin and Zyrtec -- but they help only with sneezing, unless specified as the "decongestant" form. The added decongestant benefits come with a price, though. The same chemicals that ease your throat could lead to insomnia, put more stress on the heart and lead to prostate problems in some men, Overholt said.

Erik Fisher, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta, sees more people fatigued this time of year but isn't flooded with patients with allergy-fueled depression. He does see that allergies wear patients down, though.

"Once you realize what's causing your moods, it helps people feel less stressed out," Fisher said.

Children in particular are more susceptible to vast swings in moods and behaviors related to allergies because their bodies are more sensitive, Fisher said. In some kids, when allergies overwhelm the system, they have more temper tantrums and a harder time getting to sleep.

The bottom line, though, is that people shouldn't blame their allergies for deeper emotional issues, says Dr. Michael Silverman, assistant professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Even if some people have a direct mood response from allergies, that's not always the best explanation for feeling down.

"There's so much stigma associated with mood disturbance and anxiety that patients try to grab on to anything they can to explain what's going on," he said. "Allergies could be aggravating a problem in their lives they don't want to deal with."

What to do?

Several types of medications are available to treat allergy symptoms, including pills, liquids, inhalers, nasal sprays, eye drops, skin creams and shots. Most work by modulating the body's response to the perpetrating allergen, either by blocking histamine -- a chemical released by the immune system during an allergic reaction -- or by reducing inflammation through the use of steroids, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Some are also combined with a decongestant, such as pseudoephedrine, to relieve nasal and sinus congestion.

Many allergy sufferers also find relief in over-the-counter products such as the neti pot and other nasal rinses for sinus problems.

But the only way to get more complete, prolonged relief from allergies is to undergo desensitization or "allergy shots," Overholt said. After an initial test to see what specific plants affect the patient, a doctor would administer small doses of the offending pollen or other substance under the skin over the course of three to five years.

At the end of that time, protection from allergies lasts another three to five years on average, with some people coming out allergy-free for life and others getting relief for only a year or two.

Ingram is considering allergy shots. In the meantime, she vacuums every day, takes more showers, washes the sheets more and keeps the windows closed. Her husband, who doesn't have allergies, brushes the dogs more in the spring.

"My allergies are so bad right now, I would happily claw my eyeballs out with toothpicks to make that feeling go away," Ingram wrote on her blog.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 313166

Reported Deaths: 7228
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21496257
Hinds20294414
Harrison17814309
Rankin13573278
Jackson13411246
Madison10066217
Lee9962173
Jones8364163
Forrest7649152
Lauderdale7181240
Lowndes6370145
Lamar621686
Lafayette6171118
Washington5323133
Bolivar4797132
Oktibbeha461498
Panola4561105
Pearl River4499145
Marshall4397103
Warren4380121
Pontotoc419572
Monroe4100133
Union409076
Neshoba4026176
Lincoln3950110
Hancock377786
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335790
Tate332484
Pike3301105
Scott315373
Alcorn311968
Yazoo310769
Itawamba299477
Copiah296465
Simpson294788
Coahoma294379
Tippah287768
Prentiss279560
Adams269582
Marion268880
Leake266273
Wayne262341
Grenada260386
Covington256381
George246848
Newton246061
Winston226881
Tishomingo225967
Jasper220848
Attala214173
Chickasaw207157
Holmes188673
Clay184754
Stone182033
Tallahatchie178140
Clarke177879
Calhoun170132
Yalobusha163337
Smith162234
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125938
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104826
Claiborne102230
Benton99125
Humphreys96133
Kemper95428
Franklin83623
Quitman80216
Choctaw76118
Wilkinson66930
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50317
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 530988

Reported Deaths: 10978
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson765291522
Mobile40971804
Madison34751503
Tuscaloosa25775452
Montgomery24329589
Shelby23431249
Baldwin21131308
Lee15884171
Calhoun14501314
Morgan14293279
Etowah13831353
Marshall12222223
Houston10567281
Elmore10061205
Limestone9960151
Cullman9664193
St. Clair9655243
Lauderdale9424241
DeKalb8830186
Talladega8223176
Walker7235277
Autauga6920108
Jackson6810112
Blount6660137
Colbert6298134
Coffee5511119
Dale4831111
Russell441138
Chilton4290112
Franklin425782
Covington4121118
Tallapoosa4027152
Escambia393376
Chambers3563123
Dallas3551151
Clarke351061
Marion3118101
Pike310877
Lawrence300298
Winston274472
Bibb260764
Geneva249977
Marengo249764
Pickens234461
Barbour230857
Hale222977
Butler215969
Fayette212362
Henry188744
Cherokee184845
Randolph180241
Monroe177440
Washington167339
Macon159150
Clay156256
Crenshaw152257
Cleburne148941
Lamar142535
Lowndes138853
Wilcox127130
Bullock123041
Conecuh110529
Perry107726
Coosa107228
Sumter104532
Greene92334
Choctaw60624
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 59°
Columbus
Cloudy
60° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 60°
Oxford
Cloudy
54° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 54°
Starkville
Cloudy
57° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 57°
A frontal system to the south of our area will linger for a few more days. This lingering will linger some more chances for some showers and thunderstorms in our weather forecast over the next few days.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather