This article covers:
- The connection between stress and allergies
- How stress throws the immune system out of balance
- How homeopathy addresses stress for holistic natural hay fever relief
- Top tips to reduce your stress.
Stress is often considered the great aggravator for health in general. But does stress make hay fever worse?
Psychological stress and allergic conditions have been linked together for centuries. For example, asthma was commonly referred to in most early medical texts as “asthma nervosa” (nervosa referring to nervous system) based upon the belief that, in many children, it was the result of a psychological reaction from living in a stressful household!
Fortunately today we know much more about the physiological basis of hay fever, and the role of the immune system. We also know much more about the physiological impact of stress… and like other aspects of health, there is also a link with hay fever!
The exam stress study
To explore the connection between allergy and stress, the immune reaction of 20 students with mild asthma were monitored before and during a high stress time.
The researchers chose mid-semester as the lower-stress period, and the final exam week as the higher stress period. The students psychological stress was assessed through a questionnaire, which confirmed that their anxiety and depression scores were significantly higher during the exam period.
For both the low and high stress periods, they exposed the students to an allergic trigger, and they measured bio-markers associated with allergy.
What they observed is that a type of immune cell which has a role in regulating allergic responses called an eosinophil, rose higher and persisted longer in response to allergen challenge during the stressful, final exams, in comparison with the relatively lower stress mid-semester example.
In other words, the stress of the final year exams increased their reactivity to the allergic trigger!
The immune system is highly complex, but one simple way to understand its functioning in allergy is through the balance of Th1 and Th2. These can be thought of as reflecting different modes of immune functioning.
Th1-type response tends to produce proinflammatory responses, such as what is needed when fighting intracellular invaders. But excessive proinflammatory responses can lead to uncontrolled tissue damage, such as with autoimmune diseases, so there needs to be a mechanism to counteract this. This is where the Th2-type response steps in, which is more anti-inflammatory, and will tend to counteract the Th1 response. The Th2-type response aims to destroy extracellular invaders (e.g. parasites and bacteria), but also promotes allergic type reactions.
A healthy or balanced immune system is one that can select the appropriate mode of response, be it Th1 and Th2, depending on the immune challenge. In allergy, the Th2 mode or type of response appears to be more dominant.
Stress affects a number of systems in the body, which result in increased secretion of stress hormones (such as cortisol and the catecholamines). These hormones are known to alter the immune system by suppressing Th1-type responses, shifting the immune response toward the allergic Th2 state.
Stress, hay fever and homeopathy
Natural systems of healthcare take a very holistic view of a person in health and disease, and this includes not just the physical state, but also mind and emotions. Where appropriate, a homeopath will incorporate these areas, including any stressors which impact an individual’s wellbeing, into a treatment plan. Often, this is through the selecting a homeopathic medicine which embodies both the triggers of stress, as well as the hay fever symptomatology.
When undertaking this sort of homeopathic treatment, a homeopath will take a general improvement in wellbeing, improved coping to stress, as well as a reported improvement to the annoying symptoms of hay fever as a positive indication that an ideal homeopathic medicine has been selected for you.
This holistic perspective is why Homeopathy is often called a ‘whole person’ system of natural healthcare.
Tips to reduce your stress
As someone who observes the impact of stress on our wellbeing, I strongly believe that we should practice activities which cultivate resilience – our ability to bounce back from stress. Practicing good self-care is one way to do this. This includes:
- Sleep – get plenty of sleep every night! Resting can help restore the body’s balance and help the body heal.
- Physical activity – exercise daily, in whatever way you can. Exercise helps reduce stress hormones, and also produces epinephrine, a natural decongestant, helping you breathe better!
- Meditate – and if you don’t know how to, learn! For beginners, why not try an app like headspace.com, which can guide you through it. Even a small amount of meditation once or twice a day can help you reduce stress. If you want the aid of technology, you may want to try a heart-rate variability biofeedback device (like heartmath.com) to help train your heart-brain connection for greater equanimity.
Stress and Allergic Diseases, Immunol Allergy Clin North Am. via PubMud, visited 21/11/2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3264048/
School examinations enhance airway inflammation to antigen challenge, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, visited 21/11/2016, http://www.atsjournals.org/doi/full/10.1164/ajrccm.165.8.2109065
Th1 and Th2 responses: what are they?, British Medical Journal via PubMed, visited 21/11/2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC27457/
Role played by Th2 type cytokines in IgE mediated allergy and asthma, Lung India via PubMed, visit 21/11/2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2893428/
Stress Relief Strategies to Ease Allergy Symptoms, Web MD, visited 21/11/2016, http://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/stress-and-allergies