Does Stress Make Your Allergies Worse?

Have you ever noticed that after a bad day at work or at school, your allergy symptoms seem to get worse? Doctors have long recognized that this isn't a coincidence. Now, research is shedding more light than ever on the connection. In fact, the findings of an Ohio State University study reveal that when you experience even a small amount of stress, it can make your allergic reaction much stronger to your everyday triggers.

The Mind-Body Connection

For decades, scientists have been exploring the mind-body connection, and much research has gone into trying to better understand the impact of stress on the immune system and on allergy symptoms. The latest study, which was conducted by researchers at Ohio State, looked at a group of hay fever sufferers and measured their reaction to specific allergens under both calm and stressful conditions.

When Stress and Allergies Co-Exist

The findings of the Ohio State study confirmed that when the participants were under stress, their skin test results were much more pronounced than they would have been otherwise. In fact, people who felt moderately anxious at the time of the test had wheal results that were about 75 percent larger than the wheals that appeared when they were calm. Further, people with more severe anxiety had their wheels double in size over their calmer results.

Even more interesting, though, is the fact that the impact of stress on allergies continued the day after the stressful situation had occurred. Those participants with high levels of anxiety were four times more likely to experience more severe reactions 24 hours or so later.

The Implications

These findings have large implications for allergy sufferers, because it means that an allergic reaction can continue and grow even stronger over time. It can also mean that when people with allergies are under stress, they may even react to triggers that have never bothered them before. Complicating matters even more is the fact that such a delayed allergic response typically does not respond well to antihistamines. This means that for people with severe allergies who are under stress, there is little that can be done to relieve their symptoms. The experts point out that even more worrisome is the fact that many people with allergies also suffer from allergic asthma, so when allergies can't be controlled, real danger exists that asthma symptoms could be triggered, and that they could become serious.

Be Aware

This means that doctors and patients alike need to be aware of the possibility that this could occur and could be life threatening. In addition, it is important to recognize that even when symptoms seem to resolve on their own shortly after occurring, if stress or anxiety also exists, they could come more strongly later. Therefore, anything you can do to help keep your stress level down will be well worth the effort, not only in protecting your state of mind but also protecting your overall health, too, in the end.


The Ohio State University Department of Medicine