Can allergies lead to depression?

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Adrianna Williams/Corbis


With experts predicting that the spring and summer allergy season will be one of the worst in recent years, researchers at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in New Orleans presented some intriguing findings about the connection between allergies and depression.

Allergy symptoms tend to peak twice a year — once in the spring, as budding trees release pollen — and again in the fall, when ragweed and grasses tend to irritate allergy sufferers. Suicides also tend to rise at those times, and while there are certainly a multitude of factors that contribute to suicide, scientists are increasingly interested in studying people who report both allergy and depressive symptoms together, and in understanding the physiologic changes that occur during an allergic reaction and the known mood changes that people report when they experience allergic episodes.

Dr. Partam Manalai of the University of Maryland School of Medicine presented early results of his study, believed to be the first of its kind, showing that levels of an allergen could be used to predict whether an allergy sufferer will experience more depressive symptoms during peak allergy season. He collected blood samples from 100 individuals with allergies, once during high pollen season and again in a low pollen season and recorded levels of IgE, an allergy-specific protein that rises during an allergic episode.

His findings, he says, suggest that “the worse the allergy symptoms, the worse the depression scores.” In addition, allergy sufferers with mood disorders experienced a worsening of their mood during high pollen season, when they were exposed to higher amounts of allergen.

On a physiologic level, there is good reason to investigate the potential interplay between the allergic reaction and depression, he adds, since agents released during an allergic reaction are known to affect mood and cognition. And while his study was too small to draw an conclusions about whether allergies can actually cause depression on a biologic level, Manalai notes that the results are a good first step toward better understanding how one might interact with the other.