Stress and Allergies

Allergies are not caused by stress, but the latest research suggests that stress can make allergy symptoms worse.

Allergies are not caused by stress, but the latest research suggests that stress can make allergy symptoms worse.

Keep calm and reduce your allergies? A recent study published in the journal, Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, found an association between higher perceived stress levels and allergy flare-ups.

Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to a – generally harmless – foreign substance (allergen), launching chemicals such as histamines that provoke allergy symptoms. Drugs, dust, food, insect venom, mold, animal dander and pollen are the most common allergens, and can worsen some medical conditions, such as sinus issues, skin problems (eczema) and asthma.

Allergies are not caused by stress, but the latest research suggests that stress can make allergy symptoms worse.

The study included 179 university employees who completed questionnaires on their stress and depressive symptoms at the beginning of the study, which lasted for 12 weeks. The study participants kept daily online diaries of their allergy flares, stress and mood, and also had saliva samples collected every day for two 14-day periods during the time of the study, in order to measure cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

39 percent of the study participants reported having symptoms of allergies over the study (more than one allergy flare). While cortisol levels were not associated with allergy flares, researchers did find an association between perceived stress levels and experiencing these allergy flares. Among the high-stress study participants, 64 percent of them had more than four allergy flares over the two 14-day periods in the study.

“Symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes can cause added stress for allergy sufferers, and may even be the root of stress for some,” says lead study author, Dr. Amber Patterson. “While alleviating stress won’t cure allergies, it may help decrease episodes of intense symptoms.”

The authors suggest reducing stress levels using techniques such as meditating and breathing deeply, learning coping mechanisms that do not involve smoking or caffeine (which can make stress worse), making time for fun and relaxation, adopting a healthy lifestyle and asking for help when needed from family or colleagues.