Wheeze and Psychiatric Disease?

Perhaps you also ran across a new study published Frontiers in Psychiatry. Don’t worry it’s not a journal I peruse with my morning tea either. Several sensational headlines based on this study were in my news feeds. I enjoy some critical thinking in the morning so I pulled up the abstract to see what kinds of correlations and causations were actually in the study’s conclusions.

Correlations between asthma and psychiatric disorders

The study found correlations between asthma, allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis and psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression.1 Researchers examined data of people treated by Taiwan’s national insurance program. The study selected patients who had allergic diseases and matched a control population by age and sex.1 They then calculated the incidence of psychiatric disorders in the group with allergies/asthma and without. The conclusion: allergic diseases are "associated with a 1.66-fold increased hazard of psychiatric disorders in Taiwan.”1

I’m glad we have this additional data point about how asthma and allergies correlate with mental health concerns. However, I am hesitant to freak out about this study, it doesn’t seem all that relevant to me. I’ve never visited Taiwan, but I’m sure there are cultural differences from Missouri. Whether or not those differences would positively or negatively impact the mental health of asthmatics and people with other allergic diseases, who knows?

We would need US data to draw conclusions about mental health and asthma here. Study authors noted, “The underlying mechanism of the association between allergic diseases and psychiatric disorders remains unclear.”1 Some of their “findings suggest that disadvantageous socioeconomic factors might well contribute to the risk of psychiatric disorders”.1 I’m glad the study authors acknowledge that there are limits to knowing why a person developed a psychiatric disorder.

I do not know how many of these factors if identified, would be things we can easily modify. Enacting a change in society is not a weekend project. With or without preventative measures, I doubt anyone will be hurt if we make treatments and support for people with mental health concerns readily accessible.

Now that I’ve read the study I am no more worried about asthma impacting my mental health than when I started it. The conclusions didn’t give me any concrete steps to help lower my risk of developing psychiatric disorders. I don’t plan on moving to Taiwan. Thus, I am not even part of the population the research covered.

If you don’t read headlines carefully or go find primary sources you might have drawn different conclusions. Asthma and allergies MAY contribute to the development of psychiatric disorders. So could many other factors. I respect the role of research in explaining the human condition. It is also important to me to acknowledge the limits of any scientific discovery.

In the meantime the best we can do take good care of physical and mental health. I will continue to treat my asthma as directed. I understand that living with a chronic condition is not an easy task. This study reminds me to do my part for my mental wellbeing as well as my physical self. Did you read this study? What are your takeaways about mental health?

1 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00133/full

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