Coping with an allergy can make anyone cranky. A stuffy nose or itchy skin can leave you tense and tired.

But irritability can also be a direct allergic reaction to foods, chemicals and other inhalants. Their effect on the nervous system can leave you restless, emotional, tense, sullen and tired despite having had enough sleep. Allergists call allergy-induced irritability the ‘tension-fatigue syndrome’.

An irritable person may be described by others as argumentative, easily hurt, excitable, hard to please, highly-strung, hot tempered, jittery, jumpy, moody, nervous, over-sensitive or temperamental. If any of those labels apply to you, you may be allergic. An irritable, allergic child may be hostile, hyperactive and subject to fits of crying.

‘Although the most frequent cause of this problem is a food, such as food colouring, sugar, milk, chocolate, eggs or corn, it is also possible that other common allergenic substances can be at fault (pollens, dust, moulds, perfume odours),’ says Dr Doris J. Rapp, an allergist in Buffalo, New York.

Staying away from those allergens that spark tension can make life more pleasant for the allergic person – and everyone around him. For example, Dr Rapp tells of an eleven-year-old youngster named Sean who was irritable, clumsy, restless and hostile. Sean fought constantly with his family and schoolmates. Within one week of eating a diet free of common allergenic foods, Sean was much easier to get along with.

‘As foods were re-added to his diet, it was found that . . . food colours and sugar caused irritability, hostility and violent behaviour,’ says Dr Rapp. When Sean avoided those foods, he led a peaceful life. Several months later he tried to eat a normal diet. His teachers reported a dramatic return of irritable behaviour. Back on his allergy-free diet again, Sean calmed down and played happily with others.

Sean’s story shows how rearranging one’s diet to omit allergens can make a person less edgy and argumentative.

‘The allergic tension-fatigue syndrome should be considered in every patient who for no obvious reason is subject to [hyperactivity], irritability, weakness or sluggishness,’ says Frederic Speer, M.D., in his book Allergy of the Nervous System. ‘This is especially true if other causes have been ruled out. Certainly no patient should be classified as [neurotic] until allergy has been considered.’


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