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By Rick Ansorge, Eric Metcalf and the editors of Prevention Health Books
People with allergies know that their sniffling and sneezing is allergen-induced, but allergies don’t always present themselves with such typical symptoms. Sometimes allergic reactions can cause fatigue, headaches — or even depression.
Chronic fatigue syndrome
If you’ve been experiencing extreme exhaustion for 6 months or more and your doctor hasn’t been able to identify the cause, you might have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). And if you do have CFS, allergies could be playing an important role, says Leo Galland, MD, director of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine in New York City and author of “Power Healing.”
Though no one knows exactly what causes CFS, researchers have found that more than half of the people with CFS they’ve studied also have allergies. “I believe that being an allergic individual predisposes you to chronic fatigue syndrome,” says Galland. “Chronic fatigue syndrome seems to be associated with an over-reactivity of certain parts of the immune system, which is similar to what we see in people with allergies.”
And when allergies are part of the cause, treating the allergies can be a part of the cure. “I’ve found that close to three-fourths of my patients will find their fatigue improves when their allergies improve,” Galland notes. This improvement varies widely, but sometimes it can be dramatic. “There have been some patients in whom disabling chronic fatigue totally goes away when their food allergies were treated,” he reports.
Scientists acknowledge that allergens can contribute to mood alterations. In a 3-year study of 36 people with allergies, Paul S. Marshall, PhD, a psychologist at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, found that 69 percent reported feeling more irritable when their allergies flared up; 63 percent reported more fatigue; 41 percent said that they had difficulty staying awake; and 31 percent reported feeling “sad.” So the idea that allergies might exacerbate mild depression in a few people who have other allergic symptoms isn’t that far-fetched to some researchers.