The link between hay fever, anxiety, and depression

A recently published review finds a significant link between hay fever and a raised risk of anxiety and depression in adolescents. They also appear to be more impulsive and have less resistance to stress.

Allergies, such as hay fever, affect an estimated 50 million people in the United States.

Although they are often considered fairly minor ailments, they can significantly impact the lives of those who live with them.

Roughly 10–30 percent of the global population have hay fever, which is also called allergic rhinitis.

And, in 2010, 11.1 million doctors' visits ended in a diagnosis of allergic rhinitis.

The most common symptoms, as many people will know first-hand, include a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezes and coughs, and fatigue.

Although incredibly uncomfortable, a recent review digs a little deeper, finding links between hay fever and certain psychological issues in adolescents.

This age group was of particular interest to the authors because they are a distinct and sometimes forgotten demographic; we should not "assume that adolescents are either big children or small adults," they write.

Hay fever and quality of life

The review — now published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology examined 25 previously published studies. The scientists were particularly interested in how hay fever impacts adolescents' quality of life.

This includes emotional impact, disturbed sleep, and any interference with their schooling.

It quickly became clear that hay fever's influence runs deeper than an itchy nose. "The emotional burden of hay fever can be huge for adolescents," says lead study author Dr. Michael Blaiss. He continues:

"Three of the studies in our review examined how adolescents are emotionally affected by hay fever [...] and hay fever with eye allergies (allergic rhinoconjunctivitis). They found adolescents with hay fever had higher rates of anxiety and depression, and a lower resistance to stress. [They] also exhibited more hostility, impulsivity, and changed their minds often."

Adolescents, it seems, are affected differently by hay fever than children or adults. Part of this is due to issues surrounding sleep, something that is vital for a host of essential functions, such as laying down new memories and enhancing creativity.

"Lack of sleep or poor sleep are both huge issues for adolescents, and it can be made worse by the symptoms of hay fever with or without eye allergies. Poor sleep can have a negative impact on school attendance, performance, and academic achievement."

Dr. Michael Blaiss

Why adolescents are impacted

Adolescence, for many individuals, contains a high volume of pivotal life events — such as learning to drive, taking exams, and making decisions about the future. People also become more autonomous and, perhaps, more concerned about the opinions of others.

Hay fever has the potential to make some of these challenges even more challenging.

The study authors hope that their findings will give doctors a better insight into the difficulties that some of their adolescent patients might be facing.

As they conclude, "It is critical that clinicians gain a greater understanding of the unique burden of [allergic rhinitis] and [allergic rhinoconjunctivitis] in adolescents to ensure they receive prompt and appropriate care and treatment to improve clinical and academic outcomes."