Allergens and pollen counts have been associated with various physical illnesses. People with allergies often have symptoms that include runny nose, watery eyes, itchiness, and overall feelings of being unwell during times of high pollen counts. In the springtime, pollen counts rise and can lead to exacerbation of mild allergy symptoms and can even cause allergy-induced asthma in some. But can pollen even affect psychological well-being, mortality, and more specifically, the risk of suicide?
Ping Qin of the National Centre for Register-Based Research at Aarhus University in Denmark wanted to extend the limited body of existing research on allergens and suicide. So Qin evaluated data that spanned a 25-year period to examine the suicide rates of over 2.6 million people. Qin considered gender, age, sex, location, peak allergy time, medication, and mood issues as risk factors and found that people with allergies had a 6.4% higher risk of suicide than those without during peak pollen count times. Men were more vulnerable to suicide as allergens began to rise while women were more vulnerable at the height of allergy season.
The results did not reveal specific age-related or location affects, suggesting pollen has a similar global affect regardless of location and type of allergens. However, Qin did notice that people with mood issues had a slightly elevated rate of suicide compared to those without mood issues. This could be affected by antihistamine medication, as some medications can increase mood problems and thus put people at heightened risk for suicide.
However, Qin adds that it could also be that individuals with mood issues are at a higher risk for suicide in general. Another possibility is that severe allergic reactions, such as asthma, could increase psychological symptoms and put people at higher suicide risk. In sum, these novel findings show a clear link between increased pollen counts and suicide rates in a large population based sample. Qin added, “If the relationship is confirmed, identifying the underlying molecular, cellular, physiopathological or pharmacological mechanisms will be important for defining new targets in suicide prevention.”
Qin, P., Waltoft, B.L., Mortensen, P.B., et al. (2013). Suicide risk in relation to air pollen counts: A study based on data from Danish registers. BMJ Open 2013;3:e002462. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-002462
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