One of the most debilitating symptoms of this disease is the crippling anxiety many of us get when our mast cells are misbehaving.
It can really derail your day (or even your life!), but why does it happen and what can we do about it?
As always, I turned to the experts for answers. From the National Institute of Health:
Change in the severity of allergic symptoms was positively correlated with changes in the severity of anxiety symptoms. This is consistent with previous research suggesting a connection between allergic inflammation and anxiety.
Here’s an article on PubMed that talks about anxiety and other neuropsychiatric features of mastocytosis:
Depression-anxiety like symptoms can occur in 40% to 60% of the patients and cognitive impairment is not rare (38.6%). The pathophysiology of these symptoms could be linked to tissular mast cell infiltration or to mast cell mediators release or both.
Whoa! 40% to 60% is a lot of people. Remember, that’s just among patients polled who have mastocytosis. If you include MCAS and other forms of mast cell disease along with the general public who have “just allergies”, that number must be astronomical!
I found this article, again at the National Institute of Health website, and thought this part was particularly interesting:
Despite stark differences in methodologies, the majority of published studies indicate some type of indistinct relationship between allergies and anxiety and mood syndromes. The strength of these associations is difficult to discern, given the present data. There may be a number of allergy-related mediating variables, such as alterations in immunity/cytokines, the effects of nasal obstruction on sleep, disturbed cognitive functioning, and genetic overlap. Regardless, current evidence indicates that individuals with allergies appear to be at a higher risk, of an unknown degree, for developing various types of anxiety and/or mood syndromes.
So it’s pretty obvious that mast cell activity can increase our anxiety levels but what exactly can we do about it?
The mast cell medications do a pretty good job of knocking down the anxiety, especially the H1 and H2 antihistamine combo. That was my experience, at least. I also had my doctor write me a prescription for low dose Xanax since benzodiazepines are on the list of approved therapies for patients with MCAD.
I don’t use it very often but when things get bad I break it out and it works brilliantly to keep my mast cells (and the rest of me) calm. Ironically, it was one of the only pills the doctors gave me over the years that didn’t cause bad side effects. That makes sense, finally.
I also make sure to keep on top of using my NasalCrom all day long in order to keep my nasal mast cells quieted down and less reactive. Our nose is where most of the pollen and other airborne triggers attack us first so NasalCrom is a godsend.
The oral form, Gastrocrom (cromolyn sodium) is what I use to keep my gut mast cells from reacting since that’s where a lot of anxiety comes from. It keeps that drip, drip, dripping from happening in the pit of my stomach when I take it on schedule.
As always, the medicines only go so far. Trigger avoidance is just as important. So is finding as many ways to de-stress and stay as calm as possible so as not to upset our hair-trigger mast cells.
We are all different so what relaxes me might stress you out and vice versa, but it’s important that we find as many of our own personal techniques to add to our arsenal in order to battle the anxiety.
As for me, I’m off to sit in the bay window to watch the rain fall on the tulips while I listen to Jack Johnson.