A new study finds that psychological stress and states of anxiety can worsen seasonal allergy attacks and prolong their occurence.
The study results were presented by researchers from Ohio Sate University, Columbus at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Boston.
In the presentation discussing how stress and anxiety can affect allergy sufferers Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the university said: "People may be setting themselves up to have more persistent problems by being stressed and anxious when allergy attacks begin."
The research conducted by Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues involved a total of 28 men and women with a history of hay fever and seasonal allergies participating in a clinical study.
The study participants were subjected alternately on different days to a low-stress condition on such as reading quietly from magazines and to much more stressful conditions such as videotaped public speaking in front of a group of "behaviour evaluators" and solving math problems without paper or pen in front of the group and then watching their videotaped performance.
To assess the effect that stress and anxiety had on symptoms of allergy the researchers measured allergic responses using standard skin prick allergy tests before and right after the stressful events, and then again the following day.
They found that higher levels of anxiety following the stressful event increased the severity of allergic reactions induced by the skin prick tests.
These tests involve a prick on the forearm with a needle carrying an antigen (a substance which may cause an allergic reaction.) When an allergic reaction does occur a lump known as a 'wheal' appears at the site of the prick. Following the stressful events it was found that the participants presented with larger wheals following the skin pirkc tests indicating a stronger allergic response.
Specifically, the participants who were moderately stressed following the public speaking and maths task had wheals that were 75% compared to the wheals they displayed following the less stressful task. People who the researchers classified as highly stressed following the more stressful tasks had wheals that were twice as large compared to their response when they were not stressed.
The highly stressed inviduals were also four times more likely to show allergic wheals a full twenty-four hours after the stressful event.
The researchers conclude that their experiment provides evidence that psychological stress has an effect on the immune response to allergens, lengthening allergic reactions and also amplifyling them.
"The stress seemed to affect them into the next day," explained Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser. It seems that stressful events lead to a worsening of a person's allergies that lasts at least into the next day.
It is now well established that the immune, endocrine, and nervous system are all intmately connected and work in concert. The researchers noted that the stressful tasks elevated stress hormones such as adrenaline/epinephrine as well as interleukin-6 and immune chemical associated with the inflammatory response.
It may be therefore that any measures designed to reduce stress or make people more resilient to stressful events may also help to control their allergies.
Source: Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Boston, August 14, 2008