Ever suffered from asthma, seasonal allergies, a food allergy, or a skin allergy? Allergies and heart rate variability may be putting you at risk. And there could be more of a threat than you think!
A recent study reported adults with a history of allergic disorders have an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
Examples of CHD include:
- heart rate variability and dysrhythmias like atrial fibrillation
- heart attack
- chest pain
- high blood pressure
- peripheral artery disease
- heart valve disease
The most significant findings of the study include:
- The highest risk was seen in Black male adults.
- People who have allergies and are between the ages of 39 and 57 also have a higher risk for coronary heart disease.
- People with asthma were found to have the highest risk of developing high blood pressure.
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Allergies and Heart Rate – The Latest Findings
Data from the National Health Interview Survey, with information from over 10,000 people with allergies, was reviewed to test a hypothesis correlating allergies and heart disease. Each person had at least one type of allergy (respiratory, skin, or food allergies).
The findings were presented at the 2022 American College of Cardiology and the Korean Society of Cardiology’s spring conference in Gyeongju, South Korea.
Based on the findings, the lead study author, Yang Guo, a postdoctoral researcher at Peking University Shenzhen Hospital, encouraged healthcare providers to include a cardiovascular risk assessment in clinical examinations of patients with asthma and allergies.
This is a significant recommendation because nearly 25,000 people have asthma and more than 100 million people in the United States have allergies.
Knowing about this connection will be essential to people with these medical conditions so that proper assessments, prompt treatment, and proactive self-care measures can be taken to decrease risk.
Why the Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease with a History of Allergies or Asthma?
While research shows the connection between having allergies and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, it doesn’t show the cause.
However, science does show some connection to inflammation mediators, which trigger inflammation in the body.
As an illustration, histamine increases blood flow into the area suffering from an allergen attack.
The immune system sends antibodies, which trigger inflammation.
Inflammation is our body’s way of fighting infections and pathogens. But, prolonged inflammation is an underlying factor in developing common chronic diseases (like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease).
One theory for the link between heart attack and allergies is the inflammatory response. Common allergies could lead to a thickening of the arterial walls, which may lead to heart disease.
Markedly, many allergy drugs are antihistamines, which offset the inflammatory response.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the use of antihistamines if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure.
And conversely, the AHA recommends explicitly avoiding the use of decongestants.
Self-care to Reduce Coronary Heart Disease Risk
Although inconvenient, most people only deal with allergic rhinitis (also called hay fever) during allergy season (the summer months).
But, if you deal with severe or multiple symptoms of an allergic reaction, the irritation and inconvenience of a runny nose, nasal congestion, and itchy eyes can drive even healthy people to grab their reliable over-the-counter allergy medications to dampen those symptoms.
Unfortunately, even helpful medications can have their downside.
Antihistamines constrict blood flow by narrowing blood vessels, which is effective in the nose.
But the constriction also happens in the rest of the body, which may alter heart health second to high blood pressure and an increased heart rate, making the allergies and heart rate connection.
So, at the present time, some people find the best way to treat their allergic conditions is by using a corticosteroid or oxymetazoline nasal spray. Once only available by prescription, the over-the-counter medication relieves common allergies through the nasal passages.
But it can be confusing to choose the best remedy amoung the multide of options.Therefore, you must talk to your pharmacist or healthcare provider about the potential side effects of all your allergy medications.
An equally important consideration is the list of the 12 self-care tips and suggestions I’ve listed below.
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12 Self-care Tips to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
The CDC reports high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, smoking, lack of exercise, and a family history of cardiovascular disease are key risk factors for heart disease.
Here are my self-care recommendations:
- Make an annual appointment with a healthcare provider for a cardiovascular risk assessment.
- Quit smoking as soon as you possibly can.
- Take all allergy and heart medications as ordered. It’s a great goal to get off of your blood pressure medications, but do not stop taking your blood pressure medication without talking to your healthcare provider.
- If you have high blood pressure, implement strategies to keep it low and avoid using decongestants for allergy symptoms.
- Get the right amount of sleep every night.
- Reduce inflammation triggers: eat a healthy diet and reduce sodium, sugar, processed, and fried food intake.
- Manage your stress and minimize stress triggers. If your faith is important to you, partake in prayer as a stress reliever.
- Start moving around more (It can be done even if you don’t like to exercise!).
- Avoid allergens by staying indoors as much as possible on high pollen days.
- Wash allergens from your hair and off your body during high pollen seasons.
- Avoid food allergens in your diet.
- Avoid pollution and known environmental factors that aggravate your allergy symptoms.
Symptoms to Report to Your Healthcare Provider
Call your healthcare provider for medical help if you notice any symptoms below. Do not wait for your next physical or appointment. Some of these symptoms are of significant concern.
Your provider may order blood tests or assess for a heart arrhythmia (irregular rhythm).
- heart palpitations
- heart rate variability
- sudden slow or fast resting heart rate
- difficulty breathing*
- severe reactions*
*Shortness of breath, chest pain, or severe allergic reaction can be symptoms of anaphylaxis or lead to a medical emergency, and you should call 911 immediately.
Previous Studies Also Show a Link Between Allergies and Heart Disease
Earlier research found similar results between allergies and heart rate or heart disease.
- A 2022 study in the European Respiratory Journal looked at the associations between heart rate characteristics and allergy symptom severity or mood. Results suggest a higher symptom burden provokes the cardiovascular system (higher heart rate on the next day). At the same time, a better mood might be related to a healthier, more adaptable cardiovascular system (more irregular heart rate on the same day).
- Scientists at Philadelphia’s Albert Einstein Medical Center evaluated data in a study from 1988 to 1994 with over 8,600 adults and found a connection between having allergy symptoms and heart disease.
- A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology examined the link between emergency room visits for heart attacks and allergies. The study showed people had a 5.5 percent higher risk for a heart attack in May and June when the tree and grass pollen count was high versus when the pollen count was low.
In conclusion, multiple studies show the daily allergy burden of adults with asthma, food or skin allergies, and allergic rhinitis have system effects beyond the respiratory system and warrant close attention and the proper self-care as I have noted above.
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Lisa Kimrey is a 30-year veteran registered nurse, speaker, and author of the Bible study, The Self-care Impact: Motivation and Inspiration for Wellness. At Mylifenurse, Lisa writes about simple ways to care for yourself to stay happy, healthy, and rejuvenated while you serve and care for others. Combining her years of nursing expertise with Scripture-based encouragement, Lisa shows readers easy ways to begin and maintain their self-care journey – without feeling guilty. Be sure to grab your FREE Self-care Starter Guide!