If you have seasonal allergies, you've probably been feeling under the weather for a few weeks. But seasonal allergies — also called hay fever — aren't just an annoying nuisance. Hay fever can lead to irritability, decreased focus, and even an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. But a new study has revealed yet another troubling side effect: Allergies may increase the risk of anxiety in teenagers, according to new research, and teenagers with hay fever are at a higher risk of developing depression.
Researchers from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology analyzed 25 existing studies conducted with adolescents between 10 and 19 years old. According to the study, 40 percent of people with allergy have symptoms by the time they're 6 years old. Lead study author Michael Blaiss, MD, said in a press release that “the emotional burden of hay fever can be huge for adolescents.”
The risk increases because pre-teens and teenagers are more susceptible to certain side effects, which means that adults may have an easier time with allergies and the complications they bring. “Lack of sleep or poor sleep are both huge issues for adolescents, and it can be made worse by the symptoms of hay fever [...] Poor sleep can have a negative impact on school attendance, performance and academic achievement," Blaiss says in the release. Think about the last time you had a stuffy nose and tried to go to sleep — it's not easy, and some adolescents are dealing with constant symptoms.
The research team identified several ways hay fever affects adolescents: Patients see a change in quality of life, sleep quality, daily activities, physical wellbeing and school performance. Some of these may not seem directly correlated, but students with allergies miss more school than healthy students, which can affect long-term education outcomes. In one study that was analyzed, parents noted that their children were unhappy, angry, and embarrassed because of hay fever.
According to researchers, it's important that we don't look at adolescents as "small adults." As anyone who's been through puberty can tell you, the struggles you face as a teenager are uniquely hard, which may be why adolescents are susceptible to mental health problems if they're already dealing with allergies. Blaiss says allergies can also stop young people from participating in extracurricular activities and cause them to become isolated, even though structured after-school activities can help adolescents with their mental health. "Adolescence is an important developmental period and controlling symptoms can help with daily activities such as homework and sports practices," he says.
If hay fever causes eye allergies, it can lead to itchy, swollen and red eyes — cosmetic symptoms that can make anyone self-conscious, especially pre-teens and teenagers. Interestingly, the researchers say that even sufferers without eye allergies were "particularly vulnerable" because they felt embarrassed about allergy symptoms. Blaiss says in the release that treating allergies can help improve the mood of adolescents and lessen the risk of depression and anxiety symptoms. The full study notes that seasonal allergies are sometimes considered trivial because they aren't life-threatening, but the effect on quality of life can be tremendous.
For example, most teenagers long for the day when they can get their driver's licenses. But hay fever can affect your ability to read and drive properly, which means that children with allergies may feel like they're missing out. Researchers say more studies need to be conducted, and parents and teens should be aware of how allergies can affect mental health. But they place the burden of responsibility on allergists, who should keep up with research and know the way hay fever can impact mental wellbeing. Allergy season will last through the fall, so there's still time to talk to a doctor if you're dealing with symptoms.