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Are Your Allergies Making You Anxious?

March 11, 2016 7:12 pm
Published by: Dr. Ann Lovick

Allergy season has arrived with the trumpeting sound of sneezing! Eyes water at the mere thought of pollen and noses are tied up in congestion that puts rush hour traffic to shame.

In addition to the classic allergy symptoms, many people find they get a bit more anxious this time of year. Blame it on the approach of swimsuit season. Blame it on March Madness. But it’s probably your allergies.

The truth is people do get anxious during allergy season. I have often found that when people come in for help with anxiety, and I treat them for allergies, their anxiety goes away. What causes this?

Allergies trigger lots of nasal congestion, which can cause a lot of suffering – headaches, migraines, and fever. It creates this moist swollen environment where viruses and bacteria love to grow and, when allergies stick around too long, people tend to get the flu or bronchitis or even pneumonia.

But let’s take a look at that first symptom – nasal congestion. If snot (sorry, no better word for it) stays in your head, you feel absolutely miserable. There may be some measure of relief when it runs out of your nose or down your throat. However when it runs down your throat, it often runs into the bronchial tubes where it accumulates and causes inflammation.

Have you ever been frightened or anxious and felt sick to your stomach? That is an example of emotions causing a physical reaction – a gut reaction. Physical symptoms trigger mental/emotional symptoms just as mental/emotional symptoms can trigger physical symptoms. And sometimes that inflammation in the bronchioles can cause a sensation of pressure in the chest, which is interpreted by the brain as anxiety.

So for relief of nasal congestion I recommend the following to my patients:

  1. Avoid all cow’s milk dairy products – cheese, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, and milk – these products tend to stimulate the production of more snot.
  2. Stay well hydrated – when you are dehydrated the snot gets thick and is more difficult to for the body to eliminate. When you are hydrated you thin out those lovely secretions making it easier to process and get rid of them.
  3. Avoid sugar – viruses and bacteria feed on sugar. If you are consuming sugar, you are working for the wrong team and may wind up with a respiratory infection.
  4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol – they are dehydrating to the body (see #2).
  5. N-acetyl cysteine – this is an amino acid that is a great mucolytic (breaks down snot.) It is fantastic for relieving nasal congestion.

In addition to cow’s milk products, avoid all food allergens. If you are not sure if you have food allergies, talk to your doctor about testing.