Allergies and Anxiety: Is There a Link?

When someone is affected by allergies, it is because they are allergic to things such as pet dander, pollen, or dust. However, emotional factors can also affect how severe an allergic reaction can be. Anxiety, for example, can exacerbate allergy symptoms and causes allergic reactions to be more severe. This is particularly the case for those who suffer from anxiety disorders or those who are prone to anxiety attacks. Here is a list of ways anxiety affects allergies and how to cope if you suffer from both.

How Does Anxiety Affect Allergies?

There have been many studies that have shown that stress and anxiety not only affect the severity of an allergy attack, but can also increase their duration and associated recovery time. The reason for this is because anxiety affects the immune system. Those with allergies already experience symptoms because they have weakened immune system responses to an allergen (or allergens); adding anxiety to the equation can weaken the immune system even more. Therefore, those who have anxiety may experience more severe allergic symptoms than those who do not.

How Do Allergies Affect Anxiety?

Allergies can affect one’s anxiety levels in many ways. For example, those who suffer from acute allergies to bee stings or shellfish may experience increased anxiety due to worrying about their life-threatening allergies. Additionally, for those who are allergic to airborne allergens such as pet dander and mold, they may experience difficulty sleeping.

Many studies have proven that those with poor sleep hygiene experience increased anxiety levels. It is also not uncommon for those who have skin allergies to be self-conscious and overly sensitive about the physical changes that they go through during an allergic reaction. This, in turn, can lead to extreme feelings of anxiety.

Anxiety Attacks vs. Allergic Reactions

Anxiety attacks are, in part, characterized by lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and wheezing. In that way, anxiety attacks are very similar to serious allergic reactions or allergy-induced asthma. However, the significant difference is that while an anxiety attack is not life-threatening, serious allergic reactions and allergy-induced asthma can be. As a result, individuals that suffer from both anxiety attacks and allergic reactions may experience increased stress, worried that friends or co-workers may mistake a serious allergic reaction for an anxiety attack.

These individuals should create an allergic reaction / allergy-induced asthma action plan that they share with their friends, family members, and co-workers so that everyone is aware of what to do if they are experiencing an attack. Also, it should spell out the differences between an anxiety attack versus a serious allergic reaction and asthma attack. Most notably, an anxiety attack usually only lasts for 5 to 10 minutes, whereas a serious allergic reaction or asthma attack can last for several hours.

Most importantly, the action plan should state that if they cannot tell the difference between the two attacks, emergency personnel should always be called just to be on the safe side. Having these action plans in place can help those that suffer from both allergic reactions and anxiety attacks to experience less stress as a result.

Tips on Coping with Anxiety and Allergies

Because these two disorders feed off of each other, the best way to cope with living with each is to treat them both separately and make sure that both are well controlled and maintained.  Additionally, there are many stress-relieving holistic treatments that can significantly decrease anxiety levels. These include:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga and breathing exercises
  • Acupuncture
  • Acupressure
  • Reflexology
  • Regular massage
  • Aromatherapy

Making healthy lifestyle choices can also decrease your anxiety levels and help you manage both of your disorders. Things like:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a balanced diet rich in antioxidants, and vitamins C and D
  • Exercising for at least half an hour each day
  • Not smoking
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Taking a multivitamin
  • Getting at least 30 minutes of sunlight a day
  • Limiting your refined sugar and saturated fat intake
  • Only drinking caffeine and alcohol in moderation, and never in the hours leading to bedtime.
  • Always getting an adequate amount of sleep.
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day

Now that you know the link between allergies and anxiety, make sure to properly treat both of these disorders to stay healthy.  If you have any further questions about how anxiety affects your allergies, be sure to reach out to Dr. Mayank Shukla.

  • Main Image by Hermann Kaser, used under Creative Commons 2.0. Original image has been cropped and color-adjusted for use on this page.
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