Parents and physicians don’t always make the connection between allergic conditions and emotional wellbeing in children and even adults. Why would they? For the longest time, these two types of conditions haven’t appeared to be linked in clinical settings. However, there is a growing body of research that posits a strong link between allergic conditions such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis, and mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, ADHD, hyperactivity, conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, and autism. Similar to the link between depression/anxiety and pain perception, this link has the potential to give patients insight into what might be influencing or worsening their condition. It can also provide better treatment to individuals with these issues that can prevent future problems.
How Are They Related?
A study published in the Frontiers of Psychology, conducted by Dr. Nian-Sheng Tzeng and his team of researchers, confirmed the association between allergic conditions and mental illness. Out of the tens of thousands of participants studied, 6.7% of those without allergic conditions developed a psychiatric condition compared to 10.8% of those with an allergic condition who had developed a psychiatric condition. This shows a 66% increase in the likelihood of developing a mental illness; people with allergic conditions are 66% more likely to develop (or have a preexisting) mental illness.
This link focused on the 3 A’s of allergic conditions: asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and atopic dermatitis (eczema). According to the study, eczema produced the smallest increase in mental health risk. In addition, the use of certain asthma medications lowered the risk of developing a psychiatric disorder. The mechanism by which allergic conditions are linked to mental illness is inflammation, which plays a huge role in mental health (particularly depression and anxiety). If there is inflammation on the skin caused by an allergy, it may also be present in the brain. Similarly, the stress of an allergic reaction can worsen the psychiatric problem that already exists. This relationship is a complex two-way street and often turns into a vicious cycle; being stressed leads to more skin scratching/nose blowing/coughing/wheezing, which in turn increases soreness/discomfort and subsequently, increases anxiety. In fact, an itch can be induced simply by thinking about it. Interestingly, psychological factors have often been attributed to being responsible for the perception of pruritus, a chronic itching condition. With this knowledge, researchers are starting to make more connections between the mind and the body (i.e. the psychological and the physical).
What Does This Mean?
This link can help millions of people who suffer from allergic conditions and/or mental illness. Clinicians who care for patients with allergic diseases need to know that their risk for psychiatric diseases may be higher. Doctors should assess patients’ emotional condition and monitor their mental health to avoid later psychiatric problems. In addition, parents have a crucial role to play in the development of their children’s’ allergies. It is important to introduce a variety of foods early on in the child’s life, especially in the first year, as this can help reduce the risk of food allergies and sensitivities. Furthermore, people with allergic conditions should follow an anti-inflammatory diet filled with omega-3s, omega-6s, probiotics, and fiber. Most importantly, monitor your (or your child’s) reaction to diet, environment, and stress. If there are any changes in allergies and/or mood, talk to your doctor.
Should I Be Nervous?
Although some people with any or all of the three A’s may find this article concerning, it is meant to provide a sort of relief. This may be a potential explanation for those who have experienced bouts of depression and/or anxiety and didn’t know what the reason was. This link that has recently been established (and continues to be researched) can help explain the mysterious negative emotions that may visit you intermittently if you are an individual that suffers from an allergic condition. In addition, it can provide you with knowledge of your own condition, how to manage it, and how to protect yourself from other conditions in the future.
If you or a loved one have an allergic condition, call the experts at NY Allergy & Asthma at (347) 352-8535. You can also schedule a consultation online!