Can stress affect allergic rhinitis?

Find out if stress is making your allergic rhinitis symptoms worse.


Louise Baillie
@AVogelUK


27 March 2018

Stress and Allergic Rhinitis

Stress and allergic rhinitis are two things that we wouldn’t immediately associate with one and other. However, as a study in 2008 pointed out, the two things are closely linked. Here researchers at Ohio State University found that even a little stress and anxiety could worsen the reaction to an allergen and, if the stress continued, the person’s allergy got worse too.1 

In order to reach this conclusion the study used twenty-eight men and women, all of whom had a history of hayfever or seasonal allergies. Participants were put in a range of stressful situations, including answering maths questions on the spot and making a speech to a group of behavioural experts. To find out their response to an allergen, blood and saliva samples were also taken before and after these scenarios. 

The results showed a very close link between stress and allergic rhinitis symptoms, but why might this be?

Why is allergic rhinitis linked to stress?

In someone with allergic rhinitis, histamine is produced by the immune system to help rid the body of allergens. It does this by widening blood vessels and pushing blood towards the surface of the skin. This causes some of the symptoms associated with this condition such as swelling and congestion.

So, where is the link between this and stress? Well, to answer this question we must look at what happens to our bodies when we’re feeling stressed. 

First, the stressor is detected, be it your mean boss at work, or a giant grizzly bear in the deep, dark woods! In an attempt to deal with this problem, the body releases various hormones and chemicals, including histamine. Therefore, if you’re feeling stressed and suffer from allergic rhinitis, your body produces much more histamine than would normally be the case. So, it’s no surprise that the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, including congestion, a runny nose, skin irritation and swelling, all get worse when the body is under stress – there’s just too much histamine curculating the body.

This tends to create a vicious cycle. First, stress exacerbates the release of histamine so that hayfever reactions become more extreme. However, hayfever is stressful anyway so the problem can go round and round.2  

Handy Tips about Stress and Allergic Rhinitis

 For those with allergic rhinitis, allergens cannot be avoided all that easily, especially in the spring and summer months when things like pollen are out in force. Plus, stress is, unfortunately, a part of our day-to day lives so this isn’t easily ignored either. However, despite this, there are things you can do to lessen the effects of both and make yourself feel a little more comfortable.

Address the symptoms 

One of the first things you can do when suffering from allergy symptoms during a stressful period is address the physical problems you are experiencing. I’ve already mentioned that inflammation and congestion are caused by an increase in histamine but what can you do to ease this? 

Well, a really popular option is our Pollinosan Hayfever Tablets which help to treat a whole range of allergy symptoms such as itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, a tickly nose or throat and a blocked nose. These can be used alongside other hayfever medications so there’s no need to worry about the two conflicting with one and other. This herbal remedy, made with seven tropical herbs, really will help you to feel more comfortable in no time! 

Exercise 

There has been some evidence to suggest that regular exercise, even in a small amount, could reduce the effects of allergic rhinitis.  This may be linked to the fact that exercise produces a chemical called epinephrine which acts as a natural decongestant to help you breathe better. However, exercise  also helps reduce the accumulation of stress hormones in your body to leave you feeling a little more content. 

As I mentioned in my blog, ‘5 surprising things that could help your allergic rhinitis’, there are a few things to remember when exercising with this condition.

  1. Where to exercise – exercising indoors may be preferable to going outdoors when you are suffering from allergic rhinitis as this’ll help you to avoid triggers like pollen. However, be aware that elements indoors could worsen your symptoms too. Gyms can often have a damp atmosphere for example, and swimming pools use harsh cleaning chemicals. You don’t need to avoid these places altogether, but if you can see a link between them and the severity of your symptoms, it may be best to limit the time you spend there
  2. Stretches – this easy activity helps you to relax so could help both the problem of allergic rhinitis and stress. Our blog provides instructions for stretches on various different muscles, including ones for tight hamstrings
  3. Keep it light - you don’t need to spend hours in the gym to improve your symptoms as you can keep active just by doing some light exercise like walking 
  4. Exercise videos - our website provides a range of easy exercise videos for you to try so if pollen is bothering you, you don’t even need to leave your house! ‘An easy 10 minute workout for beginners’ is a great place to start!
  5. Do what works for you – don’t push yourself to do an activity that will put your body under pressure. Just do what you are capable of as you don’t want to end up with the additional problem of sore muscles and joints

Keep up a healthy immune system

In someone with allergic rhinitis, the immune system sees allergens like pollen and mould as deadly invaders and so it over-reacts to them. On top of this, the pressure of stress can weaken the immune system meaning it’s less able to deal with viruses and infection is more likely. This shows how allergies and stress puts the immune system under a great deal of strain and so it is important to give it a helping hand at this time. 

Echinacea is traditionally used to support immune system function by stabilising an over-reactive response. It can also reduce the body’s inflammatory response which, as I have discussed, is prominent when the body is facing allergies and stress. 

Our Echinaforce Echinacea Drops are made from freshly harvested Echinacea flowers so that they do not lose their valuable properties. This means it’s a great option if you want to help out the immune system whilst suffering from stress and allergic rhinitis.

Sleep

It can be difficult to get a good night’s sleep when your mind is racing with stressful thoughts and your allergy symptoms are causing discomfort. However, rest can be a key step towards getting over these issues. That’s because sleep gives the immune system and other bodily functions a chance to recover. So, if you’d like some tips on how to improve sleep whilst suffering from an allergy, have a look at my blog ‘is hayfever affecting your sleep?’ 

Vitamin C

As I explored in my blog ‘7 food and drinks that could help with allergic rhinitis’, things like salmon, berries and yogurt could possibly help your allergic rhinitis symptoms. Therefore, watching what you eat is one small step you can take towards improving your condition. In this blog I also mentioned the benefits of vitamin C which is a natural antihistamine - histamine being the stuff that brings you up in rashes and inflammation. This means that by adding some vitamin C to your diet, you could help to counteract the effects of stress and allergic rhinitis which both produce lots of histamine. 

Your body cannot make or store vitamin C though so it’s up to you to keep adding it to your diet. You can do this by eating foods such as oranges, potatoes and broccoli. However, you could also add some vitamin C supplements into the mix to improve your daily intake. A good option is our Nature-C tablets as these are rich in naturally-occurring vitamin C which helps to support the immune system. These tablets are made from a wide variety of fruits and so unlike many vitamin C supplements, they are easily absorbed by the body.

Deal with the stressor

Although it may be challenging, it’s important to deal with the source of stress to help ease your symptoms. Do you need to take some time off work? Are you doing too much? Work out what’s causing you stress and then take steps to remove it from your life.

 

1 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080814154327.htm 

Saravanan A et al. Journal of Leukocyte Biology 2017; 102 (6): 1299-1312

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23156847

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