Does Stress Make Your Allergies Worse?

Allergies are your body's response to all kinds of substances in the environment, from pollen in the air to certain foods that do not agree with you. Symptoms can range from mild irritation, like skin rashes and red and watery eyes, to serious life-threatening conditions like anaphylaxis, where your body goes into shock (via Cleveland Clinic). While allergies are triggered by specific substances, it's your body's response that causes the symptoms that can range in severity depending on a number of factors.

One of these factors is stress. Having allergies can be a stressful experience, and stress itself can actually make allergy symptoms worse. Allergic reactions are produced by the immune system, which is susceptible to stress. "We don't know why exactly, but we think stress hormones can ramp up the already exaggerated immune system response to allergens," Dr. Ahmad Sedaghat, an ear, nose, and throat specialist, told Harvard Health Publishing.

Can lowering stress relieve allergy symptoms?

If stress exacerbates an allergic reaction, is the reverse also true? Can lowering stress levels reduce your body's annoying and potentially dangerous allergic response? Dr. Sedaghat told Harvard Health Publishing there does seem to be a "mind-body" connection to allergies, and that "if you reduce stress, we would expect that stress hormone levels would go down, and the allergic overdrive to therefore go down as well."

His views are backed up by a 2011 review published by the Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America that found that allergies have been associated with psychological stress for a long time in medical history; allergic asthma was in fact once known as "asthma nervosa," while allergic skin conditions were once called "neurodermatitis." The authors conclude that managing stress can have a positive outcome on allergy reactions. A 2021 study conducted in China found that stress management training has a powerful impact on lowering the severity of allergic reactions in those who are exposed to stressful situations.