Childhood Stress Raises Allergy Risk
Children who survive traumatic events are at a higher risk of allergy and asthma, recent research suggests.
Researchers in Leipzig, Germany have found that such events directly affect the immune system.
Dr. Gunda Herberth and colleagues at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research said that stressful events during childhood are increasingly suspected of playing a role in the later development of asthma, allergic skin disorders, and allergic “sensitizations.” They took blood samples from 234 6-year-old children participating in the ongoing the LISAplus (Life style-Immune System-Allergy) study. The blood was tested to measure levels of a stress-related hormone called VIP and immune markers such as IL-4, which are related to risk of allergic reactions. Life events such as severe disease, death of a family member, and parental unemployment or divorce were assessed by having parents fill out a questionnaire.
Families were followed for six years. Over the course of the study, nearly a third of the families were affected by unemployment. Severe illness was experienced in approximately half of all families. Death among family members or the separation of parents affected one child in ten.
Children with separated or divorced parents showed particularly high VIP levels and immune markers, as did those who had moved. However, severe disease, parental unemployment or death of a family member led to “no remarkable changes,” Herberth said. “As tragic as these events are, they are obviously of less significance for the stress reactions of children than for example a separation or the divorce of parents.” Full details are published in the journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology.
The link between stress and immune system function is not yet well understood.
The researchers say it is widely believed that major events can have an influence on the development of allergies.
Parental stress also can raise the risk of wheezing among children with no family history of asthma. A team from the University of Southern California who gathered information on 2,888 children and found the effect was particularly evident among boys. The experts say their results, which highlight “the influence of psychosocial factors on asthma, such as stress and social environment,” deserve increased attention.