Are coughing, sneezing, sticky eyes, and a runny nose getting you down? You’re not alone. Even as our neighbours and friends welcome spring flowers and the buds on trees, things can look a little different if you suffer from seasonal allergies. Indeed, a growing body of research suggests a significant link between allergies and mood problems.
Do allergies really affect mood?
Several studies involving data from thousands of people across different countries strongly indicate an association between allergy and increased prevalence of a variety of mood issues, fatigue, and even cognitive changes.
In one study of over 4,000 adults in Germany, several mood problems were 50% more common in those suffering from allergies. In another study, researchers found that people experiencing seasonal allergies to ragweed reported more fatigue, including mental fatigue (but not physical fatigue) and lower motivation, as well as feelings of greater sadness and reduced pleasure.
Allergy sufferers have also been found to have increased sleepiness and an increased percentage of deep sleep, but overall shorter sleep time compared to non-allergic people. An analysis of data from over 3,500 individuals found that more than 80% of those with moderate-to-severe rhinitis reported impaired activities. A much smaller study found that allergies may even affect cognitive function, including verbal learning, decision making, and reaction times.[4,5]
In addition, symptoms of seasonal allergies can interfere with good quality sleep. A stuffy nose, breathing difficulties, itchy eyes, and a tickly throat can make it very challenging to get proper rest, which can lead to problems with fatigue, attention, concentration, productivity, and mood. Lack of sleep may also lead a person to withdraw from social activities and reduce physical activity, creating a troublesome feedback loop that can make mood problems worse.
The good news is that where allergy sufferers undergo desensitization treatment, this association with mood problems disappears. In that large German study, those who completed such treatment successfully were 35% less likely to have mood issues compared to those with allergies who did not complete desensitization treatment. This could be because people with fewer mood issues are more likely to follow through with treatment, but it could also be that there’s a shared mechanism underlying both allergies and mood problems.
Why do allergies affect mood?
It’s still not entirely clear why or how allergies and mood are linked. There may be a variety of factors involved including:
- Environmental factors
- Social factors
- Diet and lifestyle
The most likely explanation for why allergies affect mood is a complex mix of all of the above. The air we breathe, the food we eat, levels of exercise and stress, exposure to multiple potential allergens in our homes (such as mould), and underlying genetic issues can all play a role by contributing to biochemical changes, affecting the central nervous system as a response to allergic reactions.
While there’s no single gene identified as a link between allergies and mood, genetics seem to be involved for some people. In 1998, for instance, researchers reported finding a common genetic vulnerability to allergy and depression in children.
Other research has found that people with seasonal allergic rhinitis had increased levels of inflammatory substances (interleukin-5 and tumour necrosis factor alpha) during pollen season, compared to non-allergic subjects. There is also evidence that immune system cells called T-regulatory cells and inflammatory cytokines involved in the initial stages of allergic immune responses can also influence neurotransmitters and neurohormones involved in mood regulation and mental health.[7,8]
One small study specifically investigated the links between feelings of anxiousness and low mood, inflammation and hormone health, and allergies during and outside of pollen season. During allergy season, those with increased levels of inflammation linked to allergies also had a significant increase in scores on a measure of low mood compared to those scores outside of allergy season and in non-allergic controls. In particular, those with increased scores had higher levels of interleukin-6 and changes in the ratio of other inflammatory molecules in the body, including interferon gamma and interleukin-10.
What you can do to manage allergies and mood
If instead of happily breathing in the fresh smells of spring, you just want to hide indoors feeling rather sorry for yourself, you may be suffering from the negative effects of seasonal allergies on mood. This doesn’t have to be the case, though!
By taking steps to relieve and prevent seasonal allergy symptoms, and to support mood balance, you can also enjoy those first heady days of spring. One way to keep allergies in check is to try to reduce your overall histamine load, so that exposure to pollens doesn’t have the same potential to trigger symptoms. This can mean addressing issues such as mould and dampness in your home, wherever possible.
You can also reduce histamine load by avoiding high-histamine and histamine-producing foods. These include aged cheeses, sausages and other meats, fish (especially tuna), seafood, wine, and some fermented vegetables, nuts, citrus, bananas, tomato, eggplant, mushrooms, and others. It’s also important to store foods properly to reduce spoiling (which increases histamine content). Refrigerate or freeze fish, meats, seafood, and cheeses, and store other foods in vacuum packs at 4 °C or below.
Other ways to support your mental health during allergy season include:
- Keeping windows closed at home and using a HEPA air filter
- Changing clothes and showering when coming home from trips outside
- Cutting down on or eliminating alcohol (alcohol makes allergies worse)
- Staying hydrated
- Trying to get enough sleep (using a humidifier if this helps ease allergy symptoms)
- Nasal irrigation using sterilized water to clear allergens from sinuses
There are also some excellent natural remedies for support during allergy season. For instance, quercetin – a bioflavonoid antioxidant – can help stabilize the mast cells involved in allergic responses.  Research suggests that quercetin can reduce itchy, watery eyes caused by pollen allergies.[12,13]
Probiotics may also help by boosting levels of the enzymes that break down histamine. Several Lactobacillus strains have demonstrated an ability to reduce histamine content in fermented foods, for example.[14-17] Additionally, clinical research has found that for adults with seasonal sniffles, combinations of common probiotic strains decreased symptoms and improved quality of life during allergy season.
And as for mood, Natural Factors Stress-Relax® line offers a range of products that can offer support for sleep, mental calmness, and healthier stress management. For instance, Serenity Formula® includes herbs traditionally used to temporarily relieve symptoms of mental, physical, and emotional stress.
This formula features Rhodiola rosea, ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng, and lavender and may help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation). These herbs are traditionally used to help improve mental and physical performance after periods of exertion and during times of stress, both physical and mental, making this a perfect complement for stressful seasonal allergies and all the disruption they can bring.
You can read more about how to survive allergy season here.
- Goodwin RD, Galea S, Perzanowski M, et al. Impact of allergy treatment on the association between allergies and mood and anxiety in a population sample. Clin Exp Allergy. 2012; 42(12):1765-71.
- Marshall P S, O’Hara C, Steinberg, P. Effects of seasonal allergic rhinitis on fatigue levels and mood. Psychosom Med. 2002; 64(4), 684-91. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.psy.0000021944.35402.44
- Tamm S, Cervenka S, Forsberg A, et al. Evidence of fatigue, disordered sleep and peripheral inflammation, but not increased brain TSPO expression, in seasonal allergy: A [11C]PBR28 PET study. Brain Behav Immun. 2018; 68:146-57.
- Bousquet J, Neukirch F, Bousquet PJ, et al. Severity and impairment of allergic rhinitis in patients consulting in primary care. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006; 117(1):158-62.
- Marshall PS, & Colon EA. Effects of allergy season on mood and cognitive function. Ann Allergy. 1993; 71(3):251-58.
- Wamboldt MZ, Schmitz S, Mrazek D. Genetic association between atopy and behavioral symptoms in middle childhood. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1998; 39(7):1007-16.
- Kronfol Z. Immune dysregulation in major depression: a critical review of existing evidence. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2002; 5(4):333-43.
- Rolland JM, Gardner LM, O’Hehir RE. Functional regulatory T cells and allergen immunotherapy. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010; 10(6):559-66.
- Trikojat K, Luksch H, Rösen-Wolff A, et al. “Allergic mood” – Depressive and anxiety symptoms in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR) and their association to inflammatory, endocrine, and allergic markers. Brain Behav Immun. 2017;65:202-09.
- Ozogul F, & Özogul Y. Biogenic amine content and biogenic amine quality of sardines (Sardina pilchardus) stored in modified atmosphere packaging and vacuum packaging. Food Chemistry. 2006; 99. 574-78.
- Shaik Y, Caraffa A, Ronconi G, et al. Impact of polyphenols on mast cells with special emphasis on the effect of quercetin and luteolin. Cent Eur J Immunol. 2018; 43(4):476-81.
- Kawai M, Hirano T, Arimitsu J, et al. Effect of enzymatically modified isoquercitrin, a flavonoid, on symptoms of Japanese cedar pollinosis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2009; 149(4):359-68.
- Hirano T, Kawai M, Arimitsu J, et al. Preventative effect of a flavonoid, enzymatically modified isoquercitrin on ocular symptoms of Japanese cedar pollinosis. Allergol Int. 2009; 58(3):373-82.
- Dennis-Wall JC, Culpepper T, Nieves C Jr, et al. Probiotics (Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2) improve rhinoconjunctivitis-specific quality of life in individuals with seasonal allergies: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017; 105(3):758-67.