Food and Behaviour Research

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How stress and anxiety can alter immediate and late phase skin test responses in allergic rhinitis

Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Heffner KL, Glaser R, Malarkey WB, Porter K, Atkinson C, Laskowski B, Lemeshow S, Marshall GD. (2009) Psychoneuroendocrinology. 34(5): 670-80. Epub 2009 Jan 15. 

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Allergic rhinitis (AR) is the fifth most common chronic disease, and the association between allergic disorders and anxiety is well-documented. To investigate how anxiety and stressors modulate skin prick test (SPT) responses and associated inflammatory responses, 28 men and women with AR were selected by clinical history and skin test responses.

The participants were admitted twice to a hospital research unit for 4h in a crossover trial. Changes in SPT wheals were assessed before and after a standardized laboratory speech stressor, as well as again the following morning; skin responses assessed twice during a lab session without a stressor and again the following morning served as the contrast condition.

Anxiety heightened the magnitude of allergen-induced wheals following the stressor. As anxiety increased, SPT wheal diameters increased after the stressor, compared to a slight decrease following the control task. Anxiety also substantially enhanced the effects of stress on late phase responses: even skin tests performed the day after the stressor reflected the continuing impact of the speech stressor among the more anxious participants. Greater anxiety was associated with more IL-6 production by Con A-stimulated leukocytes following the stressor compared to the control visit.

The data suggest that stress and anxiety can enhance and prolong AR symptoms.