Can Stress Make Allergic Reactions Worse?
If you find that stress worsens your allergy symptoms, you’re not just imagining it. There is a relationship between stress and allergies. Please continue reading to learn more.
Understanding the allergic reaction
If you suffer from allergic rhinitis (hay fever or seasonal allergies), then you’re no stranger to sneezing, a runny nose, watery eyes, sore throat, and itchy skin during allergy season. These common symptoms are the result of an overactive immune system.
In people with allergies, the immune system mistakenly recognizes harmless foreign substances like plant pollen and dust mites as a threat. The substances that provoke allergic responses are called allergens.
When someone with allergies breathes in allergens, the mast cells (immune system cells) in the human nasal mucosa (lining of the nose) release a powerful chemical called histamine as well as other chemicals to try and fight off the “intruders.” These chemicals trigger allergy symptoms, causing you to feel miserable.
Understanding stress hormones and chronic stress
The body’s response to stress is designed to ensure safety. In the presence of danger, the brain signals the adrenal glands. The body releases hormones such as the stress hormone cortisol, which affects many of the body’s systems. As a result, you experience fast breathing, a fast heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, and a diversion of blood flow to the brain and muscles. The goal of the body’s response is to make more oxygen, sugar, and fat available in the bloodstream to boost energy.
While the acute stress response is critical for getting through stressful situations, when it is triggered repeatedly (a condition called chronic stress), over time, the increased stress can contribute to a range of medical conditions. Stress has been linked to conditions such as heartburn, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, and worsening allergies.
Is stress related to allergy symptoms? Can allergies flare up with stress?
Yes, stressful events can affect your allergies. While psychological stress does not directly cause allergies, it can worsen your symptoms. The effect is both physical and psychological. When you’re stressed out, your emotional reactions to allergy symptoms are intensified, i.e., the symptoms bother you more. In other words, when you’re under stress, any health problems, including allergy symptoms, can start to feel overwhelming.
Stress also has a physical effect on allergies. Scientists believe that stress hormones can worsen the already exaggerated immune response to allergens in people with an allergic disease. That’s why, if your stress levels are high, you may find that your allergy symptoms are worse than usual.
Notably, the relationship between stress and allergies works in both directions. Stress can make allergies worse, and allergies can make stress worse. For people with allergic diseases, allergy symptoms, the stress of dealing with a chronic health condition, poor sleep, and fatigue can all make stress levels shoot up. Also, allergy treatment with medications can cause irritability and low energy as side effects.
How to avoid allergy triggers?
Several environmental factors can worsen allergic diseases. High pollen counts are well-known culprits that trigger seasonal allergy symptoms. Besides taking medication, there are various things you can do to ease allergy symptoms.
- Check the daily pollen count and stay indoors, if possible, on high pollen count and windy days.
- Keep your home and car windows closed during allergy season.
- Make sure your air conditioner filter is clean.
- Wear a face mask when you’re outdoors to reduce the inhalation of large pollen particles.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. A hat can stop pollen from getting in your hair.
- Avoid activities that stir up pollen, such as raking leaves and mowing lawns.
- After you’ve been outdoors, brush off pollen from your clothes or change your clothes. It is a good idea to wash your face or even take a bath and wash your hair, especially before bedtime. This can prevent pollen from transferring from your face and hair to your pillow, from where you can breathe it in all night.
- Consult an HVAC professional about HEPA or MERV-13 filters and settings to reduce indoor irritants in the air.
- See your doctor before allergy season starts so that you can be prepared.
So, what’s the verdict: Can anxiety trigger allergic reactions?
As mentioned above, stress and anxiety disorders don’t directly cause allergic disease, but they can worsen an allergic response. Managing stress and keeping psychological stressors under control may help your allergy, asthma, and other inflammatory diseases. Stress relief strategies like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises may help to ease allergy symptoms. And when you reduce stress, it will also reduce inflammation and lower your breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones.
Remember, the relationship works both ways - not only can allergies cause stress, but stress can worsen allergy symptoms. That’s why it’s important to treat allergies with lifestyle changes and medications, if needed.