God Bless you--Depress You

Seasonal allergiesmay signal predisposition to depression.

By PT Staff, published May 1, 1993 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Allergy season is bad enough with its runny noses and teary eyes. Now there's really depressing news about ragweed time.

People with seasonal allergies--20 to 25 percent of all Americans---may also have a predisposition toward depression, reports Minneapolis neuropsychologist Paul S. Marshall. "Allergies by themselves won't cause major clinical depression, but may bring on some of its symptoms," including fatigue, emotional withdrawal, irritability, and mood swings, says Marshall, of the Hennepin County Medical Center.

Marshall believes that allergies may cause an imbalance in the body's responsiveness to two neurotransmitters--acetylcholine and norepinephrine, which normally counter each other's activity in the nervous system. In turn, this imbalance may trigger depressive behavior, especially during periods of stress or intensive bouts of allergic activity.

Because the biochemistry of depression and allergies is so closely linked, depression may affect allergies, too. People with mild allergies during childhood may suffer from very severe allergic attacks only after experiencing a period of depression in their mid-twenties. Eventually, the interaction between allergy and depression, compounded by stress, may set up a vicious circle that further disrupts the neurochemistry of the brain. Allergies may worsen.

Marshall says that psychotherapists often overlook depressed patients' reports of allergic symptoms. But unless the allergies are addressed, treatment of depression alone may not be successful.

Patients who experience depression and also suffer from allergies should consider getting allergy shots or carefully avoid the allergen. If not, they may never recover fully from either.