Do allergies affect your mental health?
Reviewed by Susan Radzilowski, MSW, LMSW, ACSW
Written byElise Burley
Last updated: 03/29/2023
An allergic reaction can flip your entire day upside down. From sneezes and sniffles to swelling and itching, even mild symptoms can make it hard to function as usual.
Allergies affect more than 50 million Americans every year.1 While we don’t know for sure how they affect our mental health, research suggests there’s a link.2
How allergies can impact emotions
Your physical health is intricately connected to your emotional health, and they can influence each other.3 How you feel physically can have a ripple effect on your mind and your mood, so it’s normal for allergy symptoms to make you feel a little grumpy or unmotivated.
Consider how these common symptoms might take a toll on your emotions:
- Facial pressure and sinus pain may interfere with your ability to concentrate on tasks, leaving you frustrated and irritable.
- Coughing and congestion can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep, which makes you more prone to stress and negative moods.4
- Puffy eyes, rashes, redness, and other skin reactions may make you feel more self-conscious about how you look.
- Shortness of breath can be frightening and anxiety-inducing, making it difficult to stay calm and collected in public settings.
- Chronic itching can make it hard to focus on anything else, and it’s associated with increased depressive symptoms and a lower quality of life.5
These very real, valid feelings shouldn’t be dismissed or ignored. Most people feel better once their allergy symptoms improve, but that’s not always the case.
Can allergies cause mental health problems?
Overall, research isn’t totally conclusive. Some studies suggest people with certain allergies are more prone to conditions like anxiety or depression, while a recent study looking at genetic information and disease outcomes found no evidence that allergies directly cause mental health concerns.6
Although experts haven’t yet drawn strong conclusions, there are a few possible explanations of the ways allergies might play a role in mental health.
- Cytokines, pro- and anti-inflammatory molecules released by the body’s immune system during allergic reactions, are known to affect the brain and emotions.7
- Some antihistamines can affect your mood and sleep.8
- Symptoms that are physically uncomfortable and distracting can contribute to stress, insomnia, and negative moods.
How about severe allergies?
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that can happen suddenly. It can be caused by severe allergies to certain foods, insect stings, latex, or medications. Having severe allergies can be very worrying, and having to avoid allergens can take a major toll on your mental health.
For some people, it’s an everyday reality to avoid social settings where serious allergies could be an issue, or to worry about whether a situation is safe. It’s no wonder that children with food allergies are more likely to struggle with higher levels of anxiety, compared to those without them.9 For parents who constantly have to assess kids’ environments for allergen risks, distress can make it hard to function in everyday life.10
Treating allergies may help boost mental health
Symptoms of some allergies, like asthma or hay fever, can be treated. With fewer or less severe symptoms bogging you down physically, you’re likely to feel a lot better emotionally. People who don’t treat their allergies tend to be at higher risk for anxiety, depression, and mood disorders than people who do treat them.11
Common types of medications used to treat allergies include antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, steroids, and mast cell stabilizers. Many of these can be bought over the counter, but medications such as inhalers require a prescription. For nasal symptoms, sterile saline sprays can help clear congestion.12 In some cases, allergy shots, a type of immunotherapy, can offer long-term relief.13
Strategies for coping with severe allergies
Severe allergies can make everyday situations and environments feel like potential threats. To ease the way, try one of these effective strategies to help reduce anxiety.14
Parents of kids with severe allergies can help by:
- Creating a plan with their child that helps them stay safe and feel comfortable, confident, and in control
- Helping kids understand when and how to ask an adult for help
- Teaching children relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, to use when they’re worried about having a reaction
- Learning how to tailor information for teenagers who may be transitioning from parental to self-management of their allergies
If you or a loved one have severe allergies, you may benefit from:
- Educating yourself about the real risks of allergies by seeking accurate information from reliable sources
- Recognizing your own psychological distress and seeking support from family, friends, or a mental health professional
- Seeking proper guidance on how to use epinephrine injectors
- Considering immunotherapy for allergies
- Advocating for food labeling and public awareness of severe allergies and anaphylaxis
- Understanding that anxiety is normal in the first few months after an anaphylactic event, and you can take steps to move forward
Lifestyle changes go a long way
Whether you treat your allergies with medication or not, it’s beneficial to reduce your exposure to potential allergens and limit their impact. Depending on your allergies, you may want to:
Avoid triggers. If you’re allergic to pollen, for instance, try to stay indoors when the pollen count is high, or avoid opening the windows during times of the day when pollen is most likely to be in the air.
Clean regularly. Dust mites, mold spores, and pet dander are all common allergens found in homes. You can reduce their impact by vacuuming regularly, washing bedding weekly, and using a HEPA air purifier to filter the air.
Eat healthfully. Nutritious foods can boost your immune system and reduce inflammation.15 Be sure to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Talk to a doctor if you’re interested in alternative remedies. While a few alternative treatments may help ease seasonal allergy symptoms, others don’t have good evidence that they work.16 Consult with a medical professional to make sure any supplements you’d like to try are effective and safe. This is especially important if you take medications.
Try to reduce stress. Stress can worsen allergy symptoms.17 Consider practices like mindfulness and meditation to help you slow down. These and other kinds of self-care—such as getting good sleep and nutrition, socializing, moving your body, treating health problems, setting healthy boundaries, and doing things that give you joy and purpose—are essential tools for managing stress.
If you think allergies may be affecting your mental health, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about how to manage them. Something else could be going on, so it’s best to get checked out by a professional.
Visit our directory to find a therapist who can help you manage your symptoms and figure out how they affect your daily life. With the right guidance, you can get back to feeling like yourself again.
About the author
Elise Burley is a member of the therapist.com editorial team. She has more than a decade of professional experience writing and editing on a variety of health topics, including for several health-related e-commerce businesses, media publications, and licensed professionals. When she’s not working, she’s usually practicing yoga or off the grid somewhere on her latest canoe camping adventure.
Biofeedback therapy helps clients learn to control body functions, like heart...
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
Learn the principles of mindfulness and how MBSR can help alleviate the...
Disabilities and mental health
Having a disability and struggling with your mental health are two separate...
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
MBCT combines cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with mindfulness-based stress...