An allergy may occur when the immune system reacts to something such as pollen, pet dander or a variety of foods. An autoimmune disease develops when the immune system, which defends the body against disease, decides healthy cells are foreign. As a result, the immune system attacks those cells. Depending on its type, an autoimmune disease can affect one or many different types of body tissue.
Some allergies are on the rise in Western countries. Food allergies more than tripled in the United States over the past decade. Developed countries are also seeing an increase in autoimmune and allergic diseases.
An autoimmune disease that is often mistaken for an allergy is psoriasis. Psoriasis presents with patches of scaly, red or white skin called plaques. Some people confuse psoriasis for allergies before they visit the doctor because both conditions can cause itchy, red skin. Patients sometimes believe they have an allergy because they have a rash, itchy skin, a skin fungus, an infection or skin bumps when in fact they have psoriasis.
Stress is an important factor to consider if the condition is psoriasis. Stressful life events (Miller 2010) can compromise the immune system and may be partly to blame when the disease first appears and when it flares. The meta-analysis also revealed that people who are older or who have chronic disease or disorders are more prone to stress-related immune changes. Kiecolt-Glaser and Glaser (2002) found psychological depression due to stressful life events and age can result in a compromised immune system. When someone experiences stressful life events, these stressors can alter the effective functioning of the immune system, and that stress can cause psoriasis. Internal stressors also affect psoriasis.
Before trying to self-treat, it is important to accurately diagnose any reaction your body shows when it is stressed, such as migraine headaches or skin irritation. An integrated health approach involves a visit to your primary care physician, and that may include a referral to a psychologist, dermatologist and/or an allergist for appropriate and specialized treatment.
There is much to learn about how the body reacts to stressors in life. For more information on this topic, visit WebMD’s Stress Management Center at www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management.
Sources and Resources
Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. et al (2002). Psychoneuroimmunology: Psychological influences on immune function and health. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70, 537-47.
Miller, T.W. (Ed.) (2010). Handbook of Stressful Transitions Across the Life Span. New York: Springer Publishers Inc.
Shah, A. (2014). Why Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases Are Skyrocketing. Retrieved from www.mindbodygreen.com/0-15741/why-allergies-autoimmune-diseases-are-skyrocketing.html