Many studies have shown that people with allergic rhinitis not only suffer from symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion, and itchy eyes and nose, but from non-nasal symptoms, such as fatigue and depression as well.
Allergic rhinitis can make it harder to concentrate at work or school and affect your energy level and sleeping habits.
Unfortunately, some of these “extra-nasal” symptoms are more difficult to treat than the allergies themselves. Some of the major ones are:
- Cognitive Effects
Studies have consistently found that fatigue is common among those with seasonal allergies. In fact, daytime tiredness, while occurring less often than nasal symptoms, appears to be more common than itchy eyes or postnasal drip.
While one study recorded fatigue in 60% of people with allergies, a surprising 80% of people claim to feel tired as a result of their allergy symptoms.
In addition to fatigue, or perhaps because of it, more than a third of people with allergies in one study felt depressed, and over half of the respondents felt irritable or miserable as a result of their symptoms.
Other studies have found that the incidence of clinical depression is twice as common among allergy sufferers.
In some ways, looking at allergies and mood can be a chicken and egg question. Is it the nasal symptoms of allergies, perhaps accompanied by the embarrassment over these symptoms be the cause of your funky mood, or is it the funky mood that makes allergies more apparent?
It has been noted that chronic stress related to depression and anxiety increases the risk that someone will develop and suffer from allergies.
From yet another angle, it could be that the allergic phenomena are responsible for both the nasal allergy symptoms and mood problems.
Our immune cells react with allergens in our environment and produce chemicals known as cytokines. Cytokines, in turn, are responsible for many of the allergy symptoms we experience.
Cytokines don’t just cause inflammation in the nasal passages, however. They appear to affect the frontal lobes in the brain, a finding that could explain some of the mood changes so commonly found in those with allergies.
Whatever the cause of depression, it is not just a nuisance. Researchers have found the risk of suicide—which peaks during spring pollen season—may be partly related to the emotional effects of allergies.
Many people have noted that their allergies seem to make them “slower.” Whether these cognitive symptoms are related to fatigue, the side effects of allergy medications, or due to some mechanism due to the allergies themselves, research appears to back up those thoughts.
People with allergies have, overall, been found to have:
- Slower verbal reasoning
- Slower decision making
- Reduced psychomotor speed
That means they reason and react slower than normal during the times they are most affected by their allergy symptoms.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
The jury is still out on whether allergic rhinitis and attention deficit disorder (ADD) may sometimes go hand in hand, yet there is some evidence that the mechanisms of the two conditions that link the immune system to the nervous system are similar.
Children and Non-Nasal Symptoms
As a parent, you don’t need to read about studies showing an increase in moodiness in kids with allergies. You’ve probably lived it.
Studies have found an increase in irritability and temper tantrums among children being treated for allergies. In addition, other changes in mood related to allergies tend to be more dramatic in children than in adults.
If your child has shown signs of these symptoms, take a moment to step into their shoes. Children, unlike adults, cannot as easily see the link between their allergies and difficulty concentrating at school.
Instead, they may just notice the results that their decreased concentration brings. Add to this the stigma that many children with allergies suffer (which as adults we don’t think of as often), and the impact of non-nasal symptoms of allergies is significant.
Why the Impact?
Why do allergies have such dramatic effects on a person’s mood and well-being? This isn’t completely understood, although it could be due to the distraction or sleep disruption caused by allergy symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, and a runny nose.
In addition, changes in a person’s mood and energy level could also be due to side effects from common allergy medications, such as antihistamines.
Lastly, some researchers think that these behavioral changes may be caused by certain biochemical signals released from mast cells (and other immune cells in the body) that directly affect a person’s brain.
What You Can Do
It might leave you feeling discouraged to hear about the links between fatigue, mood, and even cognitive abilities and allergies, but there are many things that can be done that could, in turn, benefit you both from an allergy standpoint and a non-nasal symptom standpoint.
We have come a long way in methods of treating allergic rhinitis. That said, everyone is different and it often requires some trial and error to find out what works best for you.
The first step is to take a look at your environment. With the medications we have available, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are other methods available to address your symptoms such as avoidance of the cause.
You may also want to keep an eye on outdoor pollen counts and plan outdoor activities around these. Of course, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and practicing stress management can make a difference all the way around.
7 Tips for Avoiding Pollen Exposure
If avoidance isn’t an option, medications can be helpful. Some people find that allergy shots work best, and often bring the most relief over the long term.
Some people swear by alternative treatment such as neti pot nasal irrigation systems.
If you have trouble finding effective allergy treatments, talk to your healthcare provider.