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The Links Between Allergies and Anxiety

 

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by Ryan Rivera

October 2011

 

 

Beyond starting with the letter “A,” most people do not equate allergies with anxiety when looking at the causes of both disorders. Allergies are an environmental health problem, caused by an immune system that reacts poorly to the environment. Anxiety is a mental health problem, caused by inadequate coping strategies, stress, and genetics. But these two disorders have a fairly strong link, both directly and indirectly, and those that suffer from both may need to address each of those issues if they hope to successfully treat it.

 

Indirect Ways That Allergies Contribute to Anxiety

 

Many of the ways that allergies affect anxiety are indirect – meaning that the allergies are not physically causing the anxiety, but are contributing to it considerably. These include:
 

  • Fear of Allergic Reaction – Those that experience severe allergic reactions to things like peanut butter or bee stings may experience stress and anxiety every day, concerned over whether or not they’ll be able to stay safe in the environment. Life threatening allergies can be a frightening thing, and if you are already suffering from any mild anxiety, that fear can easily make your anxiety much worse.
  • Sleep Problems – When your allergies keep you awake at night, getting a full night’s sleep can be difficult. Unfortunately, experiencing the symptoms of anxiety is very common when you are struggling to get a full night’s rest. Over time this can become a vicious cycle, since anxiety can then cause sleep issues, and sleep issues can cause your allergies to worsen.
  • Oversensitivity to Body Changes – While panic attacks are a mental health problem, they are often triggered by concerns over physical health. Those that suffer from panic attacks become oversensitive to their own body’s physical reactions, causing them to experience panic. When you have allergies, you experience physical symptoms often, and those that are prone to panic attacks may easily respond negatively to those changes.


Even indirectly, it’s clear that allergies and anxiety are linked. Research has also found that anxiety itself can have a direct effect on allergies.

 

How Anxiety May Affect Allergies

 

Research at Ohio State University has shown that anxiety is also a factor in experiencing allergy symptoms. Several studies have shown that even a small amount of stress can not only increase the intensity of an allergy attack, but also cause the allergy attack itself to last longer and fade less quickly.

 

The reason for this is that stress and anxiety can affect the status of your immune system. Since allergies themselves are already caused by an inadequate immune system response, the additional stress on your immune system only makes it work less efficiently, resulting in more serious allergy symptoms than if you did not have stress.

 

How Allergies May Affect Anxiety

 

The physical effects are not necessarily one sided either. While you already read the ways that allergies can indirectly affect anxiety symptoms, early research is showing that allergies themselves may actually trigger an increase in anxiety.

 

Research in the British Journal of Dermatology found that patients that suffered from skin allergies experienced greater levels of anxiety.  Studies have also shown that a compromised immune system can cause physical stress, and research has indicated in the past that experiencing physical anxiety symptoms may increase the likelihood of experiencing stress and worry – both of which are mental health symptoms, rather than physical symptoms.

 

While research in both of these areas is fairly new and still subjected to intense medical scrutiny, there is early evidence that anxiety can cause allergies to worsen, and vice versa.

 

What Does This Mean For Future Research and Treatment?

 

The next steps in research are going to need to focus on direct causes – looking at how the immune system interacts with anxiety and vice versa in order to discover where or what the direct link is that causes the two diseases to essentially feed off each other, assuming such a link exists.

 

Nevertheless, the early evidence does indicate that there is a medical link between both disorders, and beyond that there are several indirect links that cause anxiety to fuel allergies and vice versa, so that in the event that research finds them to be independent, each can still exacerbate the symptoms of the other, causing those that experience both to live with the vicious cycle.

 

One thing is clear, however. For those that experience both anxiety and allergies, treating only one may not be adequate enough to reduce the symptoms. Allergy treatments are going to be less effective for those whose symptoms are exacerbated by anxiety, and anxiety treatments are going to struggle to work if the individual is simultaneously dealing with the physical and mental effects of allergies. Both need to be addressed if one is to be free of either, which means that research needs to continue to discover the links so that each can be treated successfully.

 


About the Author:
Ryan Rivera has dealt with the effects of both stress and anxiety and shares information on both at www.calmclinic.com.
 

 

 

 

 


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