Whether it’s the ongoing pandemic, what’s on the news, or just day-to-day life, there’s a lot to be stressed about—and it could be making your allergies worse. What’s the connection between stress and allergies? According to Dr. Z, stress is one of the most significant factors behind everything he’s seeing on a daily basis in his practice, from asthma and seasonal allergies to hives and food sensitivities. “It’s all related to stress, which causes an inflammatory response in the body,” he says.
What is stress and how can it cause so many problems?
First of all, stress is your body’s natural response to changes or challenges you’re facing, both big and small. In the short term, stress can be a positive response by keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to handle danger as in the “fight or flight” response. But when stress lingers without relief for an extended period of time (days, weeks, months, even years), that’s when it can cause problems.
Because stress impacts all of your body’s major systems—digestive, cardiovascular, immune, and nervous system—the continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on your body resulting in a variety of physical and emotional health problems. This prolonged stress triggers inflammation in the body that can worsen allergies and asthma, weaken the immune system, and result in poor sleep, illness, aches and pains, anxiety, depression, and many other conditions.
The stress/inflammation/gut connection
What actually happens in the body when you’re experiencing stress? You may feel anxious or nervous, and your heart beats faster. Your body releases adrenaline and cortisol, which is the body’s main stress-induced hormone as well as other chemicals like histamine. Histamine is the powerful chemical that triggers allergy symptoms like itchy eyes, nose, and throat, sneezing, and hives.
When cortisol levels remain high for an extended period of time it affects your immune system’s ability to do its job of fighting off infections and disease—and that means you’re more likely to get sick and have other health problems.
So how is all of this related to inflammation and the gut microbiome? “Allergies and inflammation are closely connected through the gut microbiome,” explains Dr. Z. “We’re exposed to so many kinds of stress—physical stress such as an injury, chemical stress like pesticides in our food and toxins in the environment, and emotional stress from what’s happening in our daily lives—all of these stressors cause an inflammatory response and it all starts in the gut.”
What can you do to relieve stress?
As a functional allergist, Dr. Z’s mantra is “treat the cause, defeat the symptoms.” This means that in order to get rid of your symptoms (whatever they may be) we have to figure out what’s causing them. At AAPRI we use this common-sense approach to dig deeper to find the root cause of your symptoms, which often means more diagnostic testing. “We need to test deeper to understand what’s going on in the microbiome, the gut, hormones—everything,” says Dr. Z. “The goal is to get the body into balance.”
If you’re struggling with allergy symptoms, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, or any other health concerns, now is the time to schedule a consultation at AAPRI. In the meantime, here are some quick tips you can start doing right now to relieve stress:
- Exercise – Physical activity is a great way to reduce stress, even if it’s a short walk around the block.
- Eat right – Getting plenty of fruits and vegetables and healthy fats in your diet, while avoiding sugar and overly processed foods, is one of the best ways to improve gut health.
- Relax – Make time each day to do something you enjoy.
- Breathe – One of the best tools for reducing stress is to take deep breaths.
Stress and COVID-19
COVID-19 has affected all of us in one way or another. All of the worries associated with COVID-19 and the pandemic have resulted in an unprecedented level of stress—and it’s taking a toll on our health. Be sure to get help if you need it. Here are some additional resources from the CDC: