Stress may not cause your hay fever, but it can make your allergy symptoms harder to manage. According to a recent study published in the journal, Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, there is an association between higher perceived stress 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. While alleviating stress won’t cure allergies, researchers suggest it may help decrease episodes of intense symptoms.
Study 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.
Scientists have also found that vitamin C can be very helpful in reducing stress levels. Vitamin C helps to regulate cortisol (a primary stress hormone that increases sugars in the bloodstream) and prevent blood pressure from spiking in response to stressful situations.
German researchers investigated the effects of vitamin C supplementation on participants undergoing a public speaking task, which is considered a stressor. Subjects were given 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C or a placebo before performing the task. Scientists found that those in the vitamin C group had lower levels of cortisol and blood pressure compared with those not receiving vitamin C supplementation. In addition, participants in the vitamin C group felt less stress than did the non-vitamin group.
These are stressful times. If your spring allergies are getting more difficult to manage, consider taking a high-quality vitamin C supplement.