Hay Fever and Anxiety

By: H. Wayne Shew, Ph.D.
NAB Certified Pollen Counter
AAAC Collection Station—Birmingham, Alabama

Hay fever is a problem! It doesn’t require an advanced degree to know this statement is true if you are one of the unfortunate individuals who suffers from allergic rhinitis. There are millions of people in the United States (estimated to be 50 million) who have hay fever and estimates of 10-30% of the world population suffer from allergic rhinitis. Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is often viewed as a minor ailment only, (what is the big deal about a runny nose, right), but in actual fact can have significant impact on those who suffer from it as well as those who live with these hay fever sufferers.

Symptoms (more correctly called signs) of hay fever include a runny nose, sneezes, coughs, itchy and watery eyes, and fatigue (both physical and mental fatigue may be present in allergy sufferers). These signs are certainly unpleasant and undesirable to have but can normally be controlled using immunotherapy and medications such as antihistamines. Recent studies suggest that there are also links between allergic rhinitis and some psychological issues in adolescents (individuals between 10 and 19 years of age). These emotional and psychological issues can be huge in the lives of adolescents and have far more impact than just physical discomfort that follows exposure to allergen triggers. Obviously, those individuals who are allergic to a small number of allergen triggers such as specific pollen types experience shorter periods of physical discomfort than those individuals with multiple allergen triggers, particularly indoor allergens such as cockroaches and dust mites. Regardless of the length of time of physical discomfort, it remains a concern that adolescents can experience increased emotional and psychological issues due to their allergies.

Researchers find that the quality of life for many adolescents with allergic rhinitis or allergic rhinoconjunctivitis is not what it should be. These researchers report that in addition to physical effects, hay fever also can have an emotional impact, cause disturbed sleep, and interfere with school. Emotional impact includes anxiety, depression, and a lower resistance to stress. It is also noted in published studies that adolescents with allergic rhinitis and eye allergies exhibit more hostility and are more impulsive in their actions. These adolescents also are reported to be less decisive, changing their minds frequently. Adolescents face numerous events that can be described as pivotal in their lives: taking major exams in school, taking standardized tests for admission to college, deciding whether to stay close to home or move away after high school, getting a driver’s license, and making decisions about what to do with their future. Most adolescents are also very concerned about how other people view them and about developing self-reliance or independence from their parents. Allergies may potentially make these challenges even more difficult to deal with for adolescents who suffer from allergenic rhinitis [AR] or rhinoconjunctivitis [ARC]. The authors of a recent review study conclude, “It is critical that clinicians gain a greater understanding of the unique burden of AR and ARC in adolescents to ensure they receive prompt and appropriate care and treatment to improve clinical and academic outcomes.”* If you have an adolescent who has AR or ARC, then be sure to discuss any concerns you may have about your son or daughter with your allergist.