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How Stress Worsens Hay Fever

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 13 Mar 2012 | comments*Discuss
How Stress Worsens Hay Fever

As if hay fever wasn't stressful enough as it is, a new study has found that other kinds of stress in your life could worsen hay fever. In fact, even small amounts of anxiety can intensify your body's reaction to allergens. Worse still is that this effect can persist, which means that a person who feels stressed today could suffer from a heightened allergic reaction tomorrow.

Finding a Link to Stress and Anxiety

In this recent study, researchers looked at men and women with hay fever and seasonal allergies. The participants undertook a number of psychological types of surveys to assess what kinds of stress, anxiety and similar feelings they experienced. The participants were given a low-stress control condition, before receiving a skin prick test to investigate their allergic response. After, they were told to read a specified magazine and then tape themselves reading it aloud.

The participants who received the low-stress condition had a harder time. They had to give ten-minute speeches – all videotaped – and then answer some math questions to solve without a paper and pen. They also had to view the video of their performance. The entire experiment was considered a laboratory stress experience for the participants.

Hay Fever Study Results

The researchers conducting the experiment assessed the raised 'wheals' on the arms of participants before and after they experienced the stress. They also measured them the next day. On a person who was moderately anxious from the experiment, the wheals were seventy-five percent bigger after the experiment compared to the wheals prior to being stressed.

In people who were very anxious though, the wheals were twice as large after being stressed in comparison with the wheals prior to feeling stressed. Not only that, but also these people had a higher likelihood of reacting more intensely to the skin prick test a day later.

The Reaction a Day Later

This reaction a day later is actually quite important to understand because it represents the body's repeated and increasing response to an allergen. It could also mean that a hay fever sufferer will respond intensely to other kinds of allergens that previously hadn't caused an allergic reaction. Perhaps particularly worrying is that these 'late-phase' reactions are more challenging to treat and don't always respond to the usual allergy and hay fever treatments.

Learning from Research

The researchers who conducted this study hope that doctors and other relevant health professionals learn from the study and are aware of the impact stress can have on hay fever and other allergies. Also, the late-phase reactions are important to understand and learn more about because they can be very intense and in some cases, life-threatening.

It means that when a patient becomes very stressed, they could be setting themselves up for increased allergic responses the next day. In particular, these allergic responses might not respond well to the usual medications such as antihistamines that are used to treat hay fever and other allergies. For those who suffer from hay fever, you can focus more on managing stress now, which may not only make you feel better overall but could now help you manage your hay fever.

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