Anxiety and depression come in all forms — so does allergy. But are the two conditions related? Dr. George Kroker, retired partner from Allergy Associates of La Crosse and a co-author of the La Crosse Method™ Protocol explains the intriguing link between allergies and anxiety and depression. More notably, he has often seen gratifying improvements in both conditions after treating the cause of the allergy.
“I think with allergies and the nervous system, there are two possible interactions. One direct effect is that in certain susceptible patients, a specific food or inhalant can make someone feel tired, depressed or anxious. There’s also, however, where the misery caused by the allergy condition leads to secondary anxiety and some depressive symptoms from that,” Dr. Kroker explains. This latter, indirect effect is common for many serious, chronic illnesses in general; not just allergy.
For some, after being exposed to their offending allergen, the nervous system is impacted directly, causing anxiousness or depressive symptoms. “In other words, they’ll eat something and get terribly anxious or depressed with the food,” Dr. Kroker explains, “In adults we tend to see more fatigue and depressive symptoms from foods or chemicals. Patients will get an exposure to a food and their mood will change, usually down, and they won’t feel well.”
Dr. Kroker gives an example, “I had one patient see me who turned out to be very sensitive to gluten products. When she came to see me, she was so depressed that she was making arrangements for her funeral because she didn’t figure she could go on much longer this way. After we finally tracked down that gluten was causing problems, she’s been feeling much better physically and mentally.”
In contrast to adults, children often have agitation from offending allergens or chemicals. “Food dyes or chemicals may affect a segment of children with attention deficit where they eat the food with dye or coloring, and their nervous system just does not tolerate it well. Hyperactivity and agitation are often noted. This is not an allergy, technically, as it’s not an IgE mediated condition.” Some substances simply influence the nervous system to react in susceptible children.
Anxiety and depression can appear indirectly, too, for anyone facing a chronic condition that impacts their quality of life negatively. “People with allergy are no different than anyone else who has a chronic medical condition that impacts their quality of life. If you’re chronically tired, you have low grade headaches, low grade stomach aches, and you ache in general, you’re not going to be in a particularly good mood and you may have some irritability,” Dr. Kroker states.
For those with environmental allergy, the inconsistency of symptoms can cause worry and anticipation. Dr. Kroker explains, “One of the worst things about allergy is people can’t predict how they’re going to feel. Sometimes they’ll be okay on a given day, and on other days for no apparent reason to them, they feel terrible and they can hardly function. This inconsistency breeds anxiety for them, which is, I believe, a natural thing.”
The food allergy community often speaks of anxiety of accidental exposure to their offending allergen. The seriousness of food allergy and possible anaphylaxis is a burden that’s hard to ignore. In addition, there is the anxiety certain patients with severe food allergies experience whenever they eat out or travel. One small bite of what they are allergic to may be life-threatening, and anxiety in this sense is a perfectly normal response.
Dr. Kroker states that he will sometimes see a new patient who says “Something’s missing. ‘I know I’m depressed, I have some mental fogginess, I’m tired a lot of the time, my blood work is normal. I went to my physician and my physician said I’m depressed and I need to be on an antidepressant. I’ve gone on an antidepressant and it really hasn’t done anything but make me more tired. The doctor switched the antidepressant to something different and I’m not doing any better.’” In this situation, there can sometimes be a hidden allergen aggravating or even causing their depression. The danger is that if someone is having depressive symptoms due to an allergen, typical antidepressant treatment may not help.
Identifying what gives someone neurologic symptoms and removing it will help them initially. After identifying and removing the allergen, that added measure of safety can often minimize anxieties as well. Immunotherapy treats the cause of the allergy, therefore reducing the symptoms after exposure. Dr. Kroker says, “If you can figure out what is causing their primary neurologic issue, they can get better and they may not even need their antidepressant medicine, or at the least, need even less medicine.”
In addition, if you can treat the patient with a life-threatening nut allergy so that they can confidently handle an accidental exposure, then their anxiety is greatly relieved as well. Either way, treating with sublingual immunotherapy can help both the direct as well as the indirect aggravation of the central nervous system from allergy.