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Stress, Allergies and Acupuncture

Allergies are a common condition affecting people of all ages across the world. The symptoms can range from mildly irritating to the potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.  In recent years, a link between allergies and stress has been discovered. Acupuncture is a holistic, traditional therapy which can safely address both of these issues.

 What are Allergies?

Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to a substance that would not normally cause a problem. These irritant substances are known as allergens. Some common allergens include:

  • Foods
  • Medicines
  • Tree or grass pollen
  • Pet dander
  • Dust mites
  • Insect stings or bites
  • Household chemicals
  • Latex

When these allergens come into contact with the body, either through ingestion or surface contact, they can cause an allergic reaction. The symptoms and severity of allergic reactions vary from person to person.

The most common allergic reactions include:

  • Skin rash or hives
  • Red, itchy or watery eyes
  • Runny nose, sneezing (rhinitis)
  • Itchy throat, cough

Anaphylactic shock is a rare but life threatening condition in which the airways swell shut, preventing breathing. This usually occurs as a severe allergic reaction to a specific food, bee or wasp stings.

The most common treatment for allergies is antihistamine medication. This can effectively treat some of the symptoms of allergies. However, it does not address the root cause of the condition and does not take into account additional factors such as stress.

How Stress Affects Your Allergies

One major contributing factor to allergies is stress. Stress occurs as a natural response to potentially harmful situations. In these situations, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in. Your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, blood is diverted away from your organs to your muscles, and processes such as digestion are inhibited. This is what is known as the “fight or flight” response.

The fight or flight response is particularly useful if, for example, you are a caveman being stalked by a bear. However, in the modern world, most stresses come from ongoing pressures such as work and family issues. In this case, it can actually do more harm than good.

When your body is in a constant state of stress over a long period of time, symptoms begin to appear. These may include anxiety, insomnia, depression, headaches, fatigue or digestive problems. And if you suffer from allergies, it is likely that they will get worse.

A 2014 study (Patterson et al) researched the effects of stress on allergic rhinitis symptoms. The results suggested that among people who suffer from allergies, those with the highest stress levels experienced more flare-ups. This means that by taking steps to lower your stress levels, you could reduce your allergy symptoms too.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices That May Increase Resistance to Stress

There are a number of ways in which you can alter your lifestyle to increase your resistance to stress. Simply modifying your diet and daily routine can have a real impact on your stress levels. In turn this can reduce your chances of allergy flare-ups.

Make Time for  Regular Exercise

 Regular exercise can improve mental health and help you to cope better with the pressures of daily life. Exercise stimulates your body to release chemicals called endorphins. These are the body’s natural painkillers and “feel good” chemicals. They boost your mood, improve sleep and reduce stress.

Not only does regular exercise give you a great sense of achievement, but better fitness also increases your confidence. Even a short work out can be enough to keep stress levels down. Just find something you enjoy doing and stick to it.

Make Time to Relax

Many people find relaxation techniques such as meditation helpful in battling stress. Gentle exercise with focus on breathing is perfect. Yoga and tai chi are both good examples which offer a balance of physical and mental relaxation.

Be sure to make time to do the things that you enjoy. Schedule a massage, take a bath, read a book. Whatever works for you. Have fun and never feel guilty about taking time out to treat yourself.

Try to take some time away from your cellphone too. Having the internet in your pocket makes life so convenient. But it can be all too easy to overload yourself with information, adding to your stress levels. Try switching social media for soothing music for 30 minutes each day. Giving yourself this relaxation time can really work wonders.

Looking for additional ways to Relieve Stress in 5 Minutes or Less?  Check this out!

Reduce Smoking, Alcohol, Caffeine and Sugar

Smoking and alcohol may offer an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. In the long term they can actually increase stress levels. Cravings, feelings of guilt and worries about your health can all add up to have a very negative impact.

Caffeine and sugar both give a quick, but short-lived high. While perhaps not as harmful as tobacco and alcohol, they can lead to energy “crashes” and seriously affect your mood.

Looking for A Smoking Cessation Program – Check this out!

Adapt Your Diet to Cope with Stress

Well nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress. Try to remove dietary stressors such as refined sugars, fatty and processed foods. Keep alcohol and caffeine to a minimum. And always try to make time to sit down for meals rather than eating on the go.

 Eating a Mediterranean Diet is highly recommended. This diet is rich in fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. Olive oil is the main source of fat. These foods contain high levels of antioxidants which help to protect against stress and allergies.

In Crete in 2001, a large study of 690 children was carried out (Chatzi et al). The aim was to find the effects of eating a Mediterranean diet on allergies and asthma. The study concluded that symptoms such as wheezing and rhinitis was lowest in those who consumed the most fresh fruit. Oranges, apples, tomatoes and especially grapes were shown to have the most beneficial effects.

Try Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient therapy and a branch of traditional Chinese medicine. It works by placing fine needles at specific points on the body in order to restore the balance of qi.

Qi can be translated as “energy” or “life force” and it is responsible for protecting, warming and nourishing the body. According to Chinese medicine, any disruptions in the flow of qi can result in disease. By removing these disruptions, acupuncture returns the body to a state of health and harmony.

It is a holistic treatment, meaning that the body is viewed as a whole. Symptoms such as stress and allergies are not seen as separate from one another, but are considered part of the same underlying pathology. By treating the root cause, both stress and allergies can be relieved.

Having acupuncture is a deeply relaxing experience. It reduces heart rate and blood pressure, and relieves muscular tension. Like exercise, it has been shown to release endorphins and have a positive impact on stress.

Acupuncture also works well for allergies. It regulates the immune system and reduces inflammation. It also improves circulation. This means that the amount of oxygen circulating to the muscles and organs is increased and any allergens are dealt with more efficiently.

A 2013 study (Bankhaus et al) showed acupuncture to be an effective treatment for seasonal allergic rhinitis. It included 422 people who tested positive for pollen allergies and had allergic nasal symptoms such as a runny nose. The participants reported their symptoms as well as what medication and doses they used to treat them.

The overall results were positive with participants in the acupuncture group reporting less use of antihistamine medication. They also reported improvement in symptoms after the one year follow-up period. The researchers concluded that acupuncture offers a promising solution in the treatment of allergic rhinitis.    Interested in learning more about acupuncture?  Contact Us here to set up an appointment or ask your questions!

There is a clear link between stress and allergies. Luckily this provides more opportunities to improve allergic symptoms through managing stress. By making positive changes to your lifestyle and trying holistic therapies such as acupuncture, you can successfully reduce your stress levels. And when you reduce your stress levels, your allergy symptoms are sure to follow.

 

References

 

  1. Patterson A.M. et al (2014), Perceived Stress Predicts Allergy Flares, Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; Volume112, Issue 4: 317-321
  2. Chatzi L. et al (2001), Protective effect of fruits, vegetables and the Mediterranean diet on asthma and allergies among children in Crete, Thorax 2007;62: 677-683
  3. Brinkhaus B. et al (2013), Acupuncture in Patients With Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis: A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2013;158:225-234. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-158-4-201302190-00002