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Are Allergies Making You Depressed?

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Making Sense of the Allergy-Depression Link continued...

There is clear evidence that allergies can interfere with sleep, and sleep problems have been linked to poor concentration and depression. But there may also be a biological basis to the “allergy blues” that affect so many people with allergies.

“I am much more on the side of a biological connection,” says Teodor T. Postolache, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the mood and anxiety program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Postolache led a 2005 study that found that peaks of tree pollen levels correlated with increased levels of suicide in women.

He says allergic rhinitis is known to cause specialized cells in the nose to release cytokines, a kind of inflammatory protein. Animal and human studies alike suggest that cytokines can affect brain function, triggering sadness, malaise, poor concentration, and increased sleepiness.

Sound familiar? “We’ve all experienced this syndrome to some degree,” says Marshall. “What individuals with severe allergies experience when reacting is similar to the general malaise you feel when you have the flu.”

Feeling Better Physically and Emotionally

No matter what the exact nature of allergy-depression connection, just knowing about it may help you. For one thing, says Marshall, it helps put negative emotions into context. “Knowing that allergies can cause sadness, malaise, and lethargy may help people from falsely attributing their symptoms to something else,” he says. What’s more, it can be reassuring to know that getting allergy symptoms under control may bring a welcome lift to a depressed mood.

Experts are quick to caution that this does not mean people battling depression should ignore treatment for the condition, such as psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. Nor should allergy suffers turn away from proven treatments for allergies.

In other words, people with both allergies and depression are likely to need to be treated separately for each condition. “You still treat depression as you normally would and treat allergies as you normally would,” says Marshall.

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