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How Does Pollen Affect Our Mental Health?

Author: Rin Takahashi

Editors: Hwi-On Lee and Kevy Chen

Artist: Kyra Wang

An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system identifies certain substances as a potential threat and attempts to fight back, causing symptoms like sneezing, swelling, coughing, runny nose, stuffy nose, difficulty breathing, and many more. The most common allergens include pollen, animals, foods, and medications. Over 15 million Americans, or about 15% of the population, are estimated to go through these symptoms each year. You may think an allergic reaction wouldn’t be a significant threat. However, many suffer from symptoms like those listed above, and recent studies have shown a correlation between allergies, specifically pollen, and mental health.

If you are allergic to pollen or know someone who is, you’ll probably understand the harsh physical symptoms one goes through. Since pollen lingers for several months each year, the accumulating symptoms can be frustrating. However, recent studies show that that’s not the only thing they have to go through. Cytokines, a type of protein, are released by the immune system, activating areas of the brain that regulate depression and anxiety. To this claim, Leonardo H. Tonelli and his team used ovalbumin and pollen-synthesized mice and rats. After the mice and rats were exposed to an allergen, they were evaluated in open fields. Cytokines were detected in several brain regions, causing an increase in anxiety-like behaviors and reduced social interactions without any noticeable behaviors of sickness. Thus, the experiment indicated that animals, as well as humans, being exposed to allergens, can release certain proteins that promote mental disability.

Another study suggests how pollen can increase suicide rates. Due to suicide rates peaking during the pollen season, Professor Ping Qin decided to see if pollen had any correlation with the increasing suicide rates. He used 13,700 suicide incidents in two major cities over 1304 consecutive weeks obtained from two major cities to support his claim. His research indicates that a change in pollen count levels from 0 to 10, or less than 30 grains/m^3 air, increased the weekly number of suicides by 6.4% of the population. What is even more shocking is when the pollen count level increased from 0 to 30, or less than 100 grains, people were 13.2% more likely to commit suicide. Thus, indicating a correlation between increased pollen and the suicide rate. The study also shows that gender plays a significant role in suicide rates. Although men’s suicide rate started to rise when there was a slight increase in air pollen, women’s suicide rate didn’t rise until pollen grains reached a certain level. The suicide rate rises as pollen density increases, but the suicide rate also differs between genders. 

Pollen spreads every year, causing many people to suffer physically and mentally. Increasing research on the correlation between pollen allergy and mental health suggests that people with pollen allergy are likely to struggle with anxiety, depression, and in the worst case, suicide. Therefore, it is important not to overexert yourself and make sure you take enough time to rest.

 

Citations:

“Allergy Statistics in the US.” Allergy & Asthma Network, 12 Feb. 2024,

H Tonelli, Leonardo, et al. “Allergic Rhinitis Induces Anxiety-like Behavior and Altered

Social Interaction in Rodents.” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, U.S. National Library of

Medicine, 17 Feb. 2009, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19268702/. Accessed 10 Mar. 2024.

Qin, Ping, et al. “s. Accessed 10 Mar. 2024. 

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