People itching for a solution to seasonal allergies could get help from self-hypnosis, a team of Swiss researchers suggests. The study finds that simply focusing one's thoughts on allergen-free environments can reduce symptoms of hay fever by one-third.
Although the arrival of spring brings better weather, it also triggers the release of plant pollens that cause allergies. Hay fever affects about 10-15% of adults in industrialized nations. To treat this, people turn to medications such as antihistamines, decongestants and sometimes steroids. But these can cause side-effects such as drowsiness, a dry mouth and raised blood pressure.
“We felt that the results were encouraging enough to tell people to try it, because this intervention is free of side-effects.”
Allergy sufferers have sought alternatives approaches, including psychotherapy-related methods, to ease their itchy eyes and runny noses. Wolf Langewitz of the University Hospital Basel, Switzerland, and his colleagues sought to find out how well self-hypnosis works.
The team recruited 79 patients with moderate to severe allergic reactions to grass or tree pollen, who then received training on self-hypnosis.
To achieve successful results using self-hypnosis, says Langewitz, one must first enter a trance-like state and then focus the mind on a particular theme. The whole process, he adds, can take as little as five minutes.
The Swiss researchers instructed the participants to imagine they were in a place where allergies do not torture them, such as on the beach or the ski slopes.
Langewitz encouraged his patients to think about "glittering snow crystals", chilly temperatures and other snowy phenomena, in order to tap into as many channels of perception as possible.
About 40 patients stuck with the regime for roughly two years, and were tested for their biological response to allergens: they were exposed to pollen and their congestion was assessed using a device that measures airflow through nasal passages.
The participants were tested twice: once in the absence of self-hypnosis, and once after practicing hypnosis. Their symptoms, as measured by the congestion test and from simply asking the patients how they felt, dropped by a third thanks to hypnosis.
Kathleen Sheerin of the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, says the study is interesting, but she adds that patients may have been more influenced by their belief that the treatment would work than by the hypnosis itself.
Langewitz admits that the findings are preliminary and a bigger study is needed. But, he says, "We felt that the results were encouraging enough to tell people to try it because this intervention is free of side-effects". Sheerin adds that the treatment may have other benefits: "Some people can't afford the medicine."