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Stress levels can exacerbate allergies

September 18, 2009 4:19:14 PM PDT
Your allergies leave you miserable so you do what you can to avoid the problem. You wash away any allergens and maybe even take the latest remedies, but have you thought about checking your stress levels? New research shows that's nothing to sneeze at.Benjamin Norman is a stressed-out single parent who also deals with year-round allergies

"Clogged up, wheezing, runny nose, eyes watering -- it's pretty extreme," said Norman.

Could his stress be contributing to his allergies? A new Ohio State University report reveals allergies and anxiety are a bad mix. To prove this, researchers set out to show what happens to hay fever sufferers under stress. First they exposed them to the allergens.

"To stress these people what we did was bring them into the laboratory and tell them they had five minutes to prepare a speech about why they were the best person for a particular job and then they delivered it to a panel of two or three people," said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., clinical psychologist.

Researchers compared the size of hive-like reactions before, during and after stress. The size of the reactions didn't change with people who were not stressed, but,

"If people were moderately anxious it was about 75 percent bigger," said Kiecolt-Glaser. "If they were really anxious, it was about 200 percent bigger. It doubled in size."

And researchers say the impact can last.

"Stress affects allergies at least two different ways. There's an early event, acute and up to 24 hours, or late phase response," said Ronald Glaser, Ph.D, professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics.

Researchers suspect stress causes increased levels of compounds that heighten an allergic response, and the resulting symptoms may be more persistent.

"One of the symptoms will be perhaps runny nose, or symptoms very similar to having a cold, so you can treat with typical types of cold medications but you can't use antihistamines, which is typically one of the most effective drugs to use," said Glaser.

Ben Norman says he never thought about the stress connection, but,

"Everybody deals with stress differently. Some people get ulcers and I've never had ulcers so maybe it's affecting my allergies," said Norman.

The recommendation: a dose of decompression to stop the sneezing.

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