It’s that time of year again! Ragweed season starts mid-August and leaves many people teary-eyed, itchy and congested.
Today however, ragweed is just one of numerous allergens that afflict people worldwide and the number of new allergies increases yearly. Allergies are currently the fifth-most-common chronic disease in America, and medical costs to treat them can reach $3.4 billion each year. Also, nothing today seems to be too bizarre to have an allergic reaction to.
If you have ever suffered from allergies, you know the excruciating discomfort one can go through that many times prevents us from enjoying and carrying out everyday life activities.
Many people turn to drugs for quick relief, but unfortunately that is not the way to go for many reasons. Remember, every time your body acts out it is trying to tell you something and the solution is always about getting to the root of the problem, not just masking it temporarily. Many times too, the solution lies directly in our feelings and actions.
Hence, in the latest study scientists have discovered that even slight stress and anxiety can substantially worsen a person’s allergic reaction and the added impact of stress and anxiety seem to linger, causing subsequent days of a stressed person’s allergy attack to be much worse.
The Study and Its Latest Findings
In a report presented on August 14, 2008 at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Boston, Ohio State University researchers described recent experiments meant to gauge how psychological stress might affect allergy sufferers.
Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State, explained:
Allergies are not minor problems, a huge number of people suffer from allergies and, while hay fever, for example, is generally not life-threatening, allergy sufferers often also have asthma which can be deadly.
Some data suggest that 38% of the people who suffer from allergic rhinitis also have asthma, and that 78% of asthma sufferers have allergic rhinitis.
The recruited 28 men and women all had a history of hay fever and seasonal allergies.
The participants had skin tests performed and were exposed to various typically stressful conditions and then given a battery of psychological questionnaires to determine their levels of stress, anxiety, self-confidence and feelings of control over situations.
Kiecolt-Glaser states that the researchers thus found that, the wheals on a person who was moderately anxious because of the experiment were 75% larger after the experiment, compared to that same person’s response on the day when they were not stressed, signifying a stronger reaction.
Researchers also found that people who were highly anxious had wheals that were twice as big after they were stressed compared to their response when they were not stressed. Moreover, these same people were 4 times more likely to have a stronger reaction to the skin test one day later after the stress.
This next-day change – labeled a “late-phase reaction”, which was performed, is important because it signals an ongoing and strengthening response to the allergens, and even suggests that sufferers may react strongly to other stimuli that previously hadn’t caused them to develop an allergic reaction.
Gailen Marshall, a co-investigator on the project and professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Mississippi, said that late phase, or delayed, reactions are typically unresponsive to the most common forms of allergy treatment, such as antihistamines.
He also stated that,
The results of this study should alert practitioners and patients alike to the adverse effects of stress on allergic reactions in the nose, chest, skin and other organs that may seemingly resolve within a few minutes to hours after starting, but may reappear the next day when least expected.
The patients were also followed up with various blood tests that measured stress hormones as well, to correlate what they saw, to what was happening inside of the body and they noticed increased levels of various stress compounds which the researchers say are to blame for the residual effects seen in the late-phase reaction.
Based on these results, Kiecolt-Glaser exclaimed that:
What’s interesting about this is that it shows that being stressed can cause a person’s allergies to worsen the next day. This is clinically important for patients since most of what we do to treat allergies is to take antihistamines to control the symptoms – runny nose, watery, itchy eyes, and congestion. But antihistamines don’t deal with those symptoms on the next day.
Hence this research points to the fact that people may be setting themselves up to have more persistent problems by being stressed and anxious when allergy attacks begin.
The researchers estimate that Americans pay $2.3 billion for allergy medications each year and $1.1 billion for doctor visits to treat allergy attacks. Those amounts don’t include approximately 3.5 million workdays lost as well.
*Source: Ohio State University
Tips and Conclusions
This finding should come as no surprise to most of us as stress prevents the body from performing it’s regular functions properly and has the potential to induce various, other unpleasant effects.
This latest study clearly showed that stress increased the severity and length of allergic reactions.
It is a shame that so many people today have to deal with various allergies. My theories about this epidemic and constant rise is nothing more than the mere fact that our systems today are overloaded with foreign substances in our environments and hence act out against chemical as well as natural substances.
The first step to avoiding or reducing allergic reactions is to remove as many chemicals as one possibly can from their environment. This includes commercial cleaners, air fresheners, candles, perfumes, synthetic dyes, processed food, chemical personal products, etc.
If you already are any kind of allergy sufferer, your second step is thus to find effective stress-coping strategies. These can include exercise, meditation, reading or having some kind of support system where you can openly communicate with others. Your goal is to put your body in its optimal, balanced and calm state. This way you are aiding it in its own natural healing process.
Remember, given the right conditions your body can heal itself out of almost anything.
Stress and anxiety however, are two of the most toxic states for your body that should be avoided at all costs in order to reach and maintain optimal health, or at least to ease your suffering.