Seasonal change can be a great time. In the spring, flowers start blooming. Summer brings on thunderstorms. In the fall you get changing leaves and everything readying itself for winter, except the evergreens, obviously. This may all sound nice, but if you’re a seasonal allergy sufferer, you probably just reached for an antihistamine. Pollen, mold, spores and scratchy tree needles sound more accurate. If you also have bipolar disorder, there’s more bad news. Allergies don’t just wreak havoc on your sinuses and have you buying tissues in bulk, they also affect your mood, and not necessarily for the better.
Pollen allergies affect a sizable portion of the population- up to 20% and can occur at any time of the year and vary even from day to day. That’s why pollen count sites and apps exist. Allergies are not restricted to seasonal allergies, though. There are numerous allergens that span from food to medication and pets. The reactions to each of these depends on the person. Some can trigger anaphylaxis, itching or a rash. Others can cause watery eyes, runny nose or headaches.
That’s just what is happening on the outside. On the inside, your body is busy waging a war on a substance that doesn’t actually mean it any harm. It’s the same process the body goes through when fighting off a disease or infection. White blood cells in your body identify foreign invaders which are classified as antigens. Antigens then cause the body to produce antibodies which fight off the invading cells. Histamines are a part of this reaction. They flood the infected area to fight off the antigen. Generally the higher the histamine reaction, the more inflammation occurs.
Inflammation is the crux of the relationship between allergies and moods in bipolar disorder.
It makes sense that allergies can affect your mental health. Anyone who has had an asthma attack can attest to panic that rushes through your blood while you’re waiting desperately for just a single gasp to penetrate your lungs. In fact, children and adolescents who suffer from asthma are twice as likely to suffer from depression or bipolar disorder in adulthood. Even the awful physical feelings from prolonged allergy or cold symptoms can cause frustration or depression because you Just. Want it. Over with. However, even when these temporary symptoms are discounted, there is still an increase in depressive symptoms. The two follow the same curve. If there’s an increase in allergy and asthma symptoms (whether you feel them or not), there’s an increase in bipolar symptoms.
The way this is thought to happen is through the inflammation allergies and asthma cause in the brain. When the body has an allergic response and inflammation builds, some of the materials that cause the inflammation (antibodies and histamine) cross the blood-brain barrier. It doesn’t help that the nose is conveniently located adjacent to the brain so the allergens are at a prime location for the reaction to occur. When this transfer happens, there is an effect on parts of the brain that are already vulnerable in bipolar patients. In the prefrontal cortex, patients with bipolar disorder already show lower function in areas that control memory, emotion, language, decision making and social cues. Also affected in bipolar disorder and allergy-related inflammation are the anterior cingulate cortex, which regulates emotions insofar as the relationship between feelings and action, and the insula, which helps us process our surroundings and apply the correct emotional reaction.
You can see now how easily allergies, asthma and mood can intertwine. Even in treatment the two interact. Desensitization treatment is a process that, over time, introduces small amounts of allergens into the body so that they are no longer seen as a threat and therefore do not cause the allergic/inflammatory reaction. AKA- allergy shots. Without the reaction, allergies don’t have as strong of an impact on the brain. So, those who are treated for allergies or asthma fare better than those who aren’t.
As always, make sure your doctor knows which medications you may be taking for your allergies or asthma as drug interactions may occur.
So, make sure to keep track of your allergy and asthma symptoms as seasons change. That way you can be prepared in case they start to trigger your depression.
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