Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you're having a really tough day, you sneeze a lot and your skin feels itchier? It's not a coincidence, your emotions may have been the trigger. Researchers are now finding that certain allergic disorders like hay fever, eczema and asthma are regulated, in part, by hormones and brain chemicals released into the bloodstream in response to stress. When it rains, it really does pour.
The nervous system is the interpreter of which events are "stressful" and determines how the body responds to the stress. Negative emotional responses disturb the carefully constructed equilibrium of the brain systems, putting some parts into overdrive and others into underdrive. The body produces a number of factors including hormones (e.g., cortisol) and neurotransmitters (e.g., adrenalin) which, in turn, can influence other systems in the body such as the immune system. If this imbalance goes on unchecked and becomes persistent, long-term damage and disease can result. In other words, it is the wear-and-tear from chronic overactivity or underactivity that is potentially damaging.
In other words, it is the wear-and-tear from chronic overactivity or underactivity that is potentially damaging.
Another possible mechanism linking stress to allergy is through so-called oxidative stress pathways. It has been speculated that people who suffer from allergies are unable to detoxify certain oxygen molecules that arise from normal metabolism or from outside toxins such as tobacco smoke or air pollution. Psychological stress may be an additional environmental factor that worsens this oxidative toxicity and increases airway inflammation.
Scientists are increasingly focusing on the bacteria of the gastrointestinal tract in early life and their relationship to allergic disorders. Lactobacillus, a non-harmful bacteria that's found in milk and in the gut, seems to play a role in the maturation of the immune system usually pushing it toward a nonallergic pattern. Studies have shown that psychological and physical stress may disrupt the normal balance of intestinal bacteria and this imbalance may contribute to later disease. A recent experiment showed that separation of infant monkeys from their mothers, a psychological stressor, was associated with a significant decrease in protective bacteria, particularly lactobacilli. These same researchers also demonstrated that this influence may begin even before birth when their mothers were deliberately exposed by the scientists to the stress of loud noises.
Combining stress reduction techniques with more standard medical regimens typically prescribed for allergic disorders may be a good idea.
Combining stress reduction techniques with more standard medical regimens typically prescribed for allergic disorders may be a good idea. Standard therapy for moderate-to-severe allergic disorders including asthma involves the more long-term use of anti-inflammatory agents (i.e., steroids), which have potential adverse effects, particularly at higher doses. Complimentary treatment strategies that may enhance pharmacologically active asthma treatment regimens, allowing for the use of lower doses with fewer negative side effects may, therefore, be a reasonable approach to therapy.
Research on psychological interventions suggest that psychological interventions including stress reduction interventions have the potential to affect a substantial number of individuals with allergic disorders given that as many as 30% to 40% of such patients demonstrate sensitivity to short-term stress and other emotional states that may worsen their disease. Of course the addition of these types of interventions should be discussed with your healthcare provider and importantly are not likely to completely eliminate the need for the medicines prescribed for the control of your allergic symptoms.