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Is Stress Making Your Allergies Worse?

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July 12, 2021 | Published by


Stress and allergies go together like…something, we’re sure. Ice cream and mustard? Regardless, stress can add extra misery to seasonal allergies, which are already quite unpleasant. Is stress making your allergies even more unbearable?

First, let’s cover what we mean by seasonal allergies. Allergies are the result of an overreactive immune system that sees typically harmless things like plant pollen, dust, animal dander as threats. When these things are encountered, immune system cells in the nose release chemicals that trigger allergy symptoms and send for more immune cells to fight. Symptoms include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, watery and itchy eyes, ear congestion, and postnasal drainage.1

We know we don’t have to explain stress to you, but we must make it clear that stress does not cause allergies. What stress does is add fuel to the fire that is allergies. Stress can make seasonal allergy attacks more severe and last longer. A recent study at Ohio State University had researchers observe 179 people during a 12-week period. Within that time, 39% of the participants experienced more than one allergy flare-up. Researchers found that the group with seasonal allergy symptoms had higher stress levels.2

Though the researchers could not claim the allergy attacks occurred immediately as a result of stress, a majority of the people who experienced allergy symptoms did report their symptoms began within days of an increase to their daily stress levels. Dr. Amber Patterson, lead author of the study, had this to say: “Stress can cause several negative effects on the body, including causing more symptoms for allergy sufferers.” Dr. Patterson added, “our study also found those with more frequent allergy flares also have a greater negative mood, which may be leading to these flares.”2

Another study looked at a group of people who experience hay fever. The people received a series of skin prick tests to measure their responses to allergens based on the size of the weal that developed. On the first day, subjects were given five minutes to prepare and deliver a speech to an audience on why they were the best person for a particular job, and then had to solve difficult math problems in their head with a time limit. On different days they were given less stressful assignments, such as reading a magazine.3

When researchers compared the size of reactions to skin tests before, during, and after the challenging task, there was no change in size in those who experienced little stress. This was compared to a 75% increase in those who experienced moderate stress, and a nearly 200% increase in those who experienced severe stress. The skin reactions also lasted longer in those with high stress. Skin tests done on the most stressed people the day after the speech test still showed increased IL-6 levels.3

Moreover, stress can worsen allergies by causing certain chemicals in the body to rise. One of these chemicals, histamine, is your body’s natural response to an allergen. Excess histamine can lead to more severe or longer allergy attacks. Know what can be stressful? Heavy allergy attacks that seem to never go away. The allergy attacks are adding more stress, feeding into a seemingly endless loop of stress and allergies.3

You probably already know what we’re going to say in conclusion, but we have to say it. Stress reduction and management are crucial to decreasing the frequency and severity of seasonal allergy attacks. We’re not going to leave you high and dry, though. We have tips to destress in nature. If you’re looking for good exercises for stress, we have those too. Or, if music or journaling is more your thing, we have those too.

Sources:

  1. Kerr M. Seasonal Allergies: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/seasonal-allergies
  2. McNamee D. Are allergies made worse by stress? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/274888
  3. Stress.org. https://www.stress.org/stress-makes-allergies-worse

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