While there is no direct evidence that breathwork can stop allergic responses, there is indirect evidence that it might help reduce allergy symptoms. The first way is psychological. By reducing stress, it can help reduce the mental and emotional strain of allergy symptoms.
The second is physiological. By strengthening the parasympathetic (calming) branch of the nervous system, breathing exercises do several helpful things for allergy symptoms, such as lowering inflammation and reducing oxidative stress.
Before getting into the details, let’s start by looking at which types of breathwork will be most helpful.
What Type of Breathwork Will Help the Most?
For allergies, the most beneficial breathwork will be slow breathing exercises that use a nasal inhale. These include almost any exercise that gets your breathing rate below 10 breaths a minute. Doing this will increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, reduce stress, and potentially help with allergy symptoms.
Moreover, inhaling through the nose will better filter incoming air than mouth breathing, which is especially important during allergy season.
Although there are an endless number of exercises you can try, here are three popular examples:
- Slow Breathing at 6 Breaths a Minute: Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds and out through your nose or pursed lips for 6 seconds.
- 4-7-8 Breathing: Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, pause for 7 seconds, and breathe out audibly through pursed lips for 8 seconds. ( Watch )
- 4-4-6-2 Breathing: Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, pause for 4 seconds, exhale through your nose or pursed lips for 6 seconds, and pause for 2 seconds. ( Watch)
Let’s look at the benefits of these types of exercises for allergy season.
Slow breathing exercises are one of the most effective ways to reduce stress . As we all know by now, stress seems to make everything worse. It turns out allergies are no exception .
When you’re suffering from excessive stress, it makes it easier to overreact emotionally to allergy symptoms. This can add an extra psychological burden to the symptoms you’re already experiencing.
When you practice slow breathing, you reverse this trend, making it easier to cope with your allergies.
The benefits of slow breathing go beyond just mental stress relief. The physiological effects of these exercises may be where they’re especially helpful for allergy sufferers.
Stress Hormones and Histamine
When stressed, we release hormones such as cortisol and histamine. Histamine is a key factor causing allergy symptoms, so having elevated levels of it in your blood may exacerbate your reaction to allergens. By practicing slow breathing, we reduce stress hormones in the body. This could potentially also reduce the build-up of histamine and lessen allergy symptoms.
The uncomfortable symptoms of allergies are due to inflammation. Our body is trying to protect us from what it thinks are harmful chemicals. In doing so, it causes inflammation, resulting in symptoms such as itchy eyes and swollen airways. Thus, anything that helps reduce inflammation will provide some relief.
This is where breathing exercises may help. By activating the vagus nerve (the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system), slow breathing can reduce inflammation. Thus, regular practice may reduce overall allergy symptoms by lowering your baseline levels of inflammation.
Oxidative stress occurs when free radical production overwhelms our body’s antioxidant supply. It can be caused by inflammation and may also contribute to it. Moreover, oxidative stress is a critical component of allergic reactions.
Research has consistently shown that slow breathing acts as a natural antioxidant, providing another pathway in which it might help reduce allergy symptoms. ( See this previous blog for more on how slow breathing reduces oxidative stress.)
In summary, regularly practicing slow breathing may make allergy symptoms less severe by reducing mental and emotional stress, reducing histamine, reducing inflammation, and reducing oxidative stress. At the very least, slow breathing exercises are safe and can improve your overall quality of life.
So, try out one of the abovementioned exercises, and enjoy harnessing the power of the breath this allergy season.