New research shows seasonal allergies may lead to increased anxiety.

Share on Pinterest
Could your allergies be affecting your mental health? Getty Images

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who get persistent sneezing, coughing, and congestion this time of year, you might want to pay attention to new research that suggests a link between seasonal allergies and anxiety.

A study out of Germany examined how various kinds of allergies — from perennial allergies like those to animal hair and food to seasonal allergies triggered by sources like grass pollen — might be tied to people’s psychological health.

It also found that people with generalized anxiety disorders more often experienced pollen allergies, but not year-round allergies.

The research was published in the journal International Archives of Allergy and Immunology.

The difference between those with seasonal and year-round allergies was surprising to the research team, says Katharina Harter, MPH, the publication’s lead author.

“Most surprising was the fact that we found differences between [the impact psychosocial factors have on] seasonal, or pollen, allergies and perennial allergies, like food allergy,” Harter, a doctoral candidate at University Hospital Augsburg (UNIKA-T) in Germany, told Healthline. “Anxiety was positively associated with seasonal allergies but negatively associated with perennial allergies.”

Harter adds that depression seemed to correlate solely with people who experienced year-round allergies.

To achieve their results, the team interviewed 1,782 people in Augsburg, Germany, between the ages of 39 and 88 years old. Out of the group, a little more than a quarter of them said they experienced an allergy of some kind.

About 7.7 percent said they experienced perennial allergies; just more than 6 percent had seasonal allergies; 13.6 percent experienced other forms of allergic reactions.

Why did different kinds of allergies seem to be tied to different psychological conditions?

Harter says it might have to do with the reality that people with perennial allergies have to devise their own coping mechanisms to live with the stresses that could come with managing a peanut allergy, for instance.

If you only deal with a pollen allergy once or twice a year, the stress of managing it could add more anxiety to your daily life than what you normally would experience.

Harter acknowledges that there were some weaknesses to the research itself.

The average age of participants was 61. The findings come from personal recollections from the interviews versus official diagnoses from a doctor’s office. The team has blood samples from all the participants to verify the presence of allergies.

“We would like to investigate if the same associations can be found in confirmed allergies, which were diagnosed based on blood test or skin-prick tests,” she added. “Also, it would be interesting if these associations can be found in other samples.”

Dr. Mark Aronica, an allergist-immunologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told Healthline that it’s necessary to point out that studies like this that show an association between one condition and another doesn’t necessarily reveal a cause.

He stresses that people should approach these kinds of findings with caution.

“There’s more data linking anxiety issues with people with food allergies due to the risk of serious life-threatening reactions,” Aronica said. “This report may be the first suggesting an association with pollen allergies.”

Dr. Maria Garcia-Lloret, a pediatric allergy and immunology specialist at UCLA Health, echoes the same caution, especially noting the high average age of those interviewed.

Many people start experiencing allergies at a younger age, with seasonal allergies to pollen, for instance, waning over time as people age.

Nevertheless, she says anxiety and stress over one’s allergy symptoms isn’t something to brush off.

“It’s true that stress can make your allergies worse,” Garcia-Lloret added. “Perception plays a big role — it has to do with the psyche of the individual. Somebody has a little bit of a stuffy nose and they might absolutely lose it over that.”

In the medical world, an allergist isn’t necessarily trained to treat or manage the psychological impacts allergies could have on a person, she says.

Aronica says this kind of stress can certainly be an “exacerbating factor in almost any chronic disease and is likely underrecognized or undertreated.”

Overall, more than 50 million people experience allergies each year in the United States.

Allergies collectively stand as the sixth-leading cause of chronic illness, costing $18 billion annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Aronica says it’s a condition that accounts for 2 million lost school days, 6 million lost workdays, and 28 million restricted workdays each year nationwide.

Stress over the impact this can have on people’s fiscal and social well-being could certainly tie into anxiety of some kind.

“People need to be their own best advocate, and if it’s a concern for them, they should talk to their doctor and/or a mental health specialist about their symptoms and treatment options,” he added.

Moving forward, Harter says the research team would like to spend time with people to understand their allergy management approaches.

“What people need is a sophisticated and holistic allergy management program with an allergy expert. Our data is supporting this notion,” she said.

Garcia-Lloret says that people who have allergies tend to learn the art of perseverance. Whether it’s a food allergy or a stuffy nose that shows up each spring, people devise ways to live with the day-to-day disruptions that these conditions can bring.

“I think it’s good to remind the general public that emotional status affects not only the perception of diseases, but also the course of a disease,” she said.

New research out of Germany looked at ways various allergies can psychologically affect people.

From interviews with more than 1,700 people, the study authors found that seasonal pollen allergies seemed to lead to increased anxiety in people compared to year-round allergies.

People with perennial allergies seemed to show higher rates of depression.

Allergists say it’s important to note that research like this doesn’t definitively prove that allergies cause psychological disorders such as anxiety or vice versa.

But managing the sometimes life-disrupting symptoms of an allergy can bring stress.

Doctors suggest finding healthy ways to cope with allergies. Work closely with your doctor to figure out the best plan to treat and manage your symptoms.