Stress can make symptoms worse

The importance of the psyche in allergic diseases is still controversial. As things stand at present, allergies are not primarily caused by psychological factors.

Allergy sufferers repeatedly report that stress, anxiety, depressive moods and simmering emotional conflicts in a partnership, family or at work have aggravated or even triggered their allergic symptoms. Classical medicine is still struggling with this topic. The views range from the widespread doctrine that an allergy is primarily a purely physical and not a mental illness, to the position that many allergies have psychological causes.

More recent studies at least show that especially in the case of neurodermatitis , hives and allergic asthma, psychological processes have more influence on the course of the disease than the experts have long assumed. So had hay fever patients complaints increased during the pollen season, especially if they also had to deal with psychological conflicts during this time. And in atopic dermatitis, negative, emotionally stressful stress can demonstrably trigger flare-ups and sometimes make the disease considerably worse. Studies have shown that typical allergic complaints such as reddened skin, shortness of breath or swelling of the mucous membranes can be caused by suggestion, classic conditioning and under hypnosis, but can also be positively influenced in return.

Skin often reacts as a pressure relief valve for the soul

“At least a quarter of all allergic reactions also have a lot to do with psychological problems,” estimates Uwe Gieler from the University Clinic in Giessen. The physician is one of the few internationally recognized psychodermatologists and has been researching the language of the skin for almost 30 years. His scientific approach is that of all psychosomatics: The body expresses emotional and psychological conflicts through illnesses that the mind cannot or does not want to process.

Skin in particular often reacts as an “overpressure valve of the soul”, Gieler knows from his therapeutic practice: He observed women in whom suppressed anger turned into hives expressed. And men who are afraid of closeness, who unconsciously signal their partners with bright red neurodermatitis facial skin to keep a safe distance. A young woman who half-heartedly slipped into her marriage developed a gold allergy to the wedding ring on her honeymoon of all places. And a medical student got a watch containing nickel from both parents for his exam. But only his mother’s watch caused him to develop nickel-related contact eczema. The mother had left the family years ago for another partner, and the student has had a split relationship with her ever since.

As impressive as such stories are – Uwe Gieler warns against “hobby psychology”, which interprets a psychological background into every disease process. “There are clear congenital or contact-acquired allergies that occur in every mental state and have no connection with mental problems,” he says. Contrary to earlier assumptions by scientists, there is also no conclusive evidence that allergy sufferers have typical character traits, emphasizes Gieler. Not all asthmatics have a closeness-distance problem with their life partner and not all neurodermatitis sufferers are “particularly thin-skinned emotionally”. There is no such thing as an “allergy personality”.

The sense of allergy

Psychotherapeutic treatment as part of allergy therapy is therefore only useful if there is evidence of strong fears or emotional conflicts that perpetuate or intensify the symptoms. “In order to find out whether psychological factors play a role, the doctor and patient should always ask themselves what the meaning of the allergy has in the life of the person affected and whether the illness worsens in certain stressful situations,” recommends the psychosomaticist.

For some sufferers, it is therefore helpful to write down allergy symptoms and moments of stress in a diary as a first stepto note. Perhaps this reveals one or the other connection that is easily overlooked in everyday life. Relaxation methods and stress management, which those affected are taught in patient training, can also alleviate the suffering of many allergy sufferers. This was confirmed by a study commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Health, which examined the effects of relaxation techniques such as autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation according to Jacobson on atopic dermatitis: In most of the participants, the inflammation of the skin decreased significantly, the itching decreased, and significantly less medication was required . This success does not occur immediately, but after a few months of regular practice.

Mental protective measures against allergies

The so-called Hildesheim health training, developed by psychologists at the Hildesheim / Holzminden / Göttingen University of Applied Sciences, goes even further. The aim is that allergy patients activate their self-healing powers – with the help of breathing, body and relaxation exercises as well as perception training, visualization and self-hypnosis. “Allergy sufferers can learn effective mental protective measures against hay fever, asthma, skin rashes or neurodermatitis,” says psychologist Klaus Witt from Bargteheide near Hamburg, who helped develop the method.

During training, patients could “reinterpret” potentially threatening situations and teach their organism new ways to react through self-hypnosis. The psychologist is convinced that the immune system can be trained in such a way that it no longer reacts at all to grass pollen, for example: “The allergy sufferer can imagine, among other things, a transparent cover or a source of power that protects him from the allergens. That may sound a bit flat, but it helps in many cases. ” Perhaps because the allergy sufferer is no longer at the mercy of the disease, but knows how to deal with it.

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