As someone with severe springtime allergies, I go through the same cycle every year. On the one hand, I can't wait for winter to end and warmer weather to arrive, but on the other hand, I know that higher temperatures also means blooming trees and plants and terrible allergies. During the first few really nice days of the season, all most people want to do is go outside and enjoy it — yet I know doing that will leave me with a nonstop runny nose, itchy eyes and a scratchy throat, not to mention triggering my asthma. Throw on top of that my always-present anxiety and depression, and spring — the season when we're supposed to be happy and full of life — turns out to be kind of a downer.
Now, a new study suggests my springtime cycle of allergies and emotions may not be that unusual. The research, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that 11 percent of people with common allergic diseases — in this case, hay fever, asthma and eczema — developed a psychiatric disorder within a 15-year period compared to only 6.7 percent of those without.
This is not the first study to link allergies with increased risks of certain psychiatric or emotional disorders, but it is the first to find a connection between common allergies and the overall risk of developing psychiatric disorders. The authors hope that their findings could have wider implications for how doctors treat and monitor people with allergies.
Working as a clinician, Dr. Nian-Sheng Tzeng from Tri-Service General Hospital in Taiwan and lead author of the study, observed that patients with allergies, asthma and eczema often had emotional difficulties and as a result wanted to conduct further research to see if there was any empirical evidence to back this up.
In order to get a better grasp of whether there is a real link, Tzeng and colleagues utilized a database of health insurance claims in Taiwan covering a 15-year period. From here, they identified 46,647 people in the database with allergic diseases and 139,941 without, covering all age groups.
Of all the patients studied, those with eczema had a lower risk of developing a psychiatric condition, while those with asthma and allergies had a higher risk — except in some cases in which certain asthma medications decreased the risk of psychiatric disorders in asthma patients.
So, does this mean allergies, asthma and eczema are to blame for mental health conditions? Not so fast, the researchers say. Although some recent research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests inflammation in general — including asthma and allergies — could be linked to and possibly contribute to depression and anxiety, more research is needed in order to determine the causes of this correlation. In the meantime, Tzeng says these findings can help doctors be more mindful of the connection between mind and body.
"We would like to let clinicians who care for patients with allergic diseases know that their risk for psychiatric diseases may be higher," Tzeng says in a statement. "Assessing their emotional condition and monitoring their mental health could help to avoid later psychiatric problems."
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