Are you wondering can stress make allergies worse? Know that stress may not cause you to have an allergy, but it can make your allergy harder to manage. Learn about the connection and find out how to best manage your symptoms.
If you feel like you need some help with your stress and allergies, don’t hesitate to call a Colorado Springs Asthma and Allergy Associates Physician today!
If your watery eyes, congestion, and an itchy nose are making you miserable, take a look at your to-do list. Busy days, deadlines, and restless nights may be making your symptoms worse, research shows.
Chronic stress won’t cause allergies to develop out of nowhere, but they can exacerbate symptoms and make treatment more difficult, according to a study in the Journal of Investigative Allergology and Clinical Immunology.
“There is good evidence to show that stress can make allergies worse,” says Jill Poole, MD, an allergist at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. “For instance, studies show that social and economic stress can make childhood asthma symptoms more severe and more difficult to treat.”
Acute Stress, Chronic Stress, and Allergies
Many studies show that your nervous system and your immune system, the system responsible for the allergic response, are closely linked. This link has even given rise to a new field of study called psychoneuroimmunology. Doctors now know that when your body is under stress it feels threatened and produces brain chemicals and hormones that trigger your immune system.
Acute stress causes your body to go into a ‘flight or fight’ response. In order to survive, your body will increase its heart rate and blood pressure, and deliver more sugar and oxygen to your muscles. This response might help you get out of danger, but it can also be dangerous for you if you have allergies. This stress response has been shown to trigger asthma and allergic skin rashes in children. Some examples of acute stress are:
- Sudden illness
- Sudden life changes or losses
- Emotional issues that cause anxiety, fear, anger
Chronic stress (stress lasting for months or years) may be even worse for your allergies. Exposure to stress over a long period of time can change your immune system in ways that make your allergy symptoms worse and also make you more susceptible to allergies. Things that can cause chronic stress include:
- Chronic illness
- Poor working or living conditions — such as relationship difficulties, long hours, financial worries.
Stress and Allergies: A Vicious Cycle
“When your body is under stress and feels overwhelmed, it makes your allergies worse, which only increases the amount of stress you feel. Stress can also cause you to engage in behaviors that make your allergies worse. It can become a vicious cycle,” warns Dr. Poole. Some behaviors that may be caused by stress make allergy worse or harder to treat include:
- Abusing toxic substances like drugs, alcohol, and tobacco
- Failure to eat well and get enough sleep
- Overeating and obesity
- Missed doctor appointments due to stressful life situations
Stress can also lower your resistance to respiratory infections.
What Can You Do About Stress and Allergies?
The good news is that while stress can weaken your immune system and make your allergy symptoms worse, relieving stress can make your immune system stronger and can help you manage your allergies better. Here are some tips for lowering your stress level:
- Learn stress management techniques such as relaxation exercises, meditation, or yoga.
- Get regular exercise to reduce stress.
- Take care to get enough sleep, eat well, and avoid too much caffeine or alcohol.
- Talk about your stress and ask for help from friends and family.
- Avoid people or situations that trigger stress.
“One of the best ways to reduce stress is to work with your doctor to develop an asthma or allergy action plan. This means indentifying your allergy triggers and seasons, talking to social workers or others who can council you on dealing with social and emotional stressors, and knowing what treatments and medications will help you. Having an action plan in place makes you feel empowered and reduces the stress of living with an allergy,” advises Poole.
This article was originally published on January 24, 2013 and recently updated.