Mindpath Health’s Taish Malone, LPC, Ph.D. helps discuss how allergies may have an impact on our mental health.
In the United States, more than 50 million people experience allergy symptoms each year. From seasonal to food allergies, symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from a stuffy nose or tiny rash to more severe and even life-threatening health complications.
It goes without saying that staying vigilant and managing these symptoms can often be stress-inducing and isolating.
In fact, research shows that suffering from allergies is associated with a higher risk of developing mental health conditions. So why isn’t the mental health impact of allergies more often discussed?
The Hidden Impact of Allergies
There’s no shortage of possibilities when it comes to allergies. People suffer allergic reactions to certain plants, materials, drugs, animal hair and dander, environmental factors, and more.
Suffering an allergy attack can be traumatic and staying on top of what could be potential allergens can get exhausting. The psychological toll of this is great, says Taish Malone, PhD, a licensed professional counselor with Mindpath Health.
“The physical body is in a symbiotic relationship with our mental states which include our thoughts and emotions,” Malone says.
“Many fail to realize that having allergies is a medical condition, which may be why most often underestimate the impact having allergies can have on the sufferer.”
Allergies to food items are among the most experienced—and potentially the most physically dangerous.
Research shows that anxiety, depression, and even bullying is commonly associated with managing a food allergy, especially at a young age—one in three children that have food allergies report being bullied because of that allergy.
While allergies may not have a causal relationship with mental health, there is correlation. Malone notes that the higher the severity of an allergy and its symptoms, the greater its impact.
“Suffering with disruptive symptoms that cause repetitive discomfort can lead to self-doubt in some, and even pose as a quality-of-life stressor and lead to stress response dysfunctions such as anxiety and depression,” she says.
Echoing this point, a survey from Allergy UK found that just over half of adults living with allergies avoid social interactions and feel the need to downplay allergy symptoms because they don’t want to be judged by friends, family members, or employers.
“The same allergens that trigger seasonal allergies can cause asthma and eczema which have data showing high rates of anxiety, depression, and even suicidality,” says Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist with the Allergy & Asthma Network.
Allergies in Pandemic Times
On the topic of seasonal allergies, spring and summer can be tough times for allergy sufferers. But allergy season this year may be a bit tougher.
Coughing, sniffling, and breathing issues are common symptoms of allergies, but they’re also symptoms of COVID-19.
Discerning between the two conditions, as Parikh points out, can be stress-inducing. And not only that—displaying any of these symptoms in public has often come to elicit a certain reaction from the people in your vicinity.
“The fear of a populated area could cause feelings of rejection and isolation to avoid the dagger stares or people moving away when someone with allergies begins to show some signs that are misunderstood,” Malone says.
She notes that while it’s totally understandable for people to want to protect themselves from the virus to someone experiencing allergies, this can feel like social exclusion.
The person may then avoid social situations altogether, and this level of isolation could be detrimental during a time when feelings of fear and loneliness are already running high.
How to Relieve Allergy Symptoms
For those finding themselves in that boat currently, Malone recommends a few methods for overcoming the mental struggles of allergies. Hypnotherapy has shown positive results, for one, she says.
“In the practice of this altered state of consciousness, a hypnotherapist can bridge or mediate between the mind and body using the influence of suggestion,” Malone says.
Acupuncture could be another possible route to relief, she says, as this method is rising in popularity as an alternative to conventional allergy treatments. In fact, research has shown that acupuncture significantly reduced nasal symptoms of allergies.
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