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Allergies and shyness: nothing to sneeze at.

Allergies and shyness: Nothing to sneeze at

Many extremely shy adults apparently have a heightened vulnerability both to allergies -- particularly hay fever -- and to mood disturbances such as severe depression or anxiety, asserts a team of psychiatrists in the September/October PSYCHOSOMATIC MEDICINE.

The investigators, led by Iris R. Bell of the University of Arizona in Tucson, divided 375 college undergraduates into four groups based on the degree of shyness each student had reported on a questionnaire that focused on shyness with strangers, fondness for large parties, and recollections of childhood shyness and fear of going to school. The researchers also administered questionnaires assessing mood disturbances and allergies, including hay fever, asthma, eczema, hives and drug allergies leading to anaphylactic shock.

Significantly more reports of depression, fearfulness, fatigue and hay fever emerged from the 72 students in the most-shy group than from the other participants. One-third of the students in the two groups ranking highest for shyness suffered from hay fever, compared with about one-fifth of the remaining students. Moreover, hay fever afflicted six of the 18 students reporting the most shyness, but struck none of the 19 students ranked as the most outgoing in the 375-person sample. The four groups shared other allergies evenly.

Other evidence supports the link between hay fever and shyness, the researchers contend. A 1988 study directed by Jerome Kagan of Harvard Unviersity indicated that extreme shyness represents a stable temperamental trait among children. Unpublished data show a greater frequency of hay fever among close relatives of extremely shy children than among relatives of outgoing children, Kagan says. Scientists have also linked extreme inhibition among children and adults with greater degrees of depression and anxiety.

Bell and her co-workers speculate that the hay fever-shyness connection may stem from alterations of neurochemical receptors in inner brain structures that regulate mood, smell and immunity. Other investigators have shown that nasal secretions of allergy sufferers contain elevated levels of some neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, they add.

Further studies of shy people with allergies may reveal chemical markers of a vulnerability to anxiety disorders and depression, they suggest.
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Title Annotation:evidence that shyness increases vulnerability to allergies
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 27, 1990
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