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Hypnosis and Allergies

In October 2014, Bill Murray reported using hypnosis to rid himself of a cat allergy for a feline-focused film, St. Vincent.

Hypnosis for allergies?? I know what you're thinking.... allergies are completely physical, right? So how can a mental process help someone with allergies? Well this comes as a an almost unbelievable surprise to most people, as it did to me when I witnessed hypnosis allergy-removal for the first time. The technique that is used is from neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), which is a set of tools originally derived from hypnotherapy, and commonly used by hypnotherapists today.

Freedom from Seasonal Allergies

The premise. Allergies are a mistake of the immune system; that is, the immune system mistakenly recognizes a normally harmless substance to be an invading organism, and mounts an immunological response to it.

For example, there's nothing toxic about pollen from grass - i.e. it does not contain any substances that would make us ill, infect us with bacteria or viruses, or damage any of our organs or body systems. Yet somehow, many of us have bodies that incorrectly categorize pollen as toxic, and when we are exposed to it in the air, our mucous membranes become inflamed as white blood cells flood the area, and produce excess mucous to try to flush the "toxin" out. The symptoms are the same as if we were to have a bonafide bacterial or viral infection -- running nose, blocked sinuses, sore throat, etc. So the immune system is making a mistake.

The mystery of the mind-body connection. While neurologists, endocrinologists, physiologists and other scientists work on unravelling the mysteries of how the mind-body connection works, hypnotherapists and similar practitioners continue to develop techniques that allow us to harness the power of this connection in predictable ways, so that we can dependably utilize the mind to heal the body. So what we DO know that it DOES work—and in ways more powerful than we have thought in the past. Our brains and bodies have evolved over millions of years as an integrated system, so it only makes sense that our minds should be able direct processes in the body. Indeed, people adept at deep meditation have shown that they can change their heart rate and skin temperature merely by willing it while meditating. In states of meditation and self-hypnosis we strengthen the connection between the conscious and subconscious minds. Within these states of greater connection, we can consciously visualize the changes we want to achieve in our bodies. Since the subconscious communicates well using symbols and images, it receives the conscious direction and then somehow directs the body to make the appropriate alterations. It's that somehow that science is working on understanding.

The gist of the allergy removal technique. Briefly, the allergy removal technique involves firstly telling the subconscious mind in a straightforward and logical manner that the immune system has made a mistake in recognizing a benign substance as being toxic. It then informs the subconscious that it is safe to correct this mistake and to assures it that the substance is not harmful. This is followed by visualizations of reaction-free exposure to the formerly allergenic substance and a repetition and emphasis that the substance is "okay" and can be comfortably and naturally in contact with the body.

Below are research articles on hypnosis and allergies with the key points highlighted in blue for your ease of reading.

Allergy. 2001 Aug;56(8):734-40. Skin reactions to histamine of healthy subjects after hypnotically induced emotions of sadness, anger, and happiness. Zachariae R, Jorgensen MM, Egekvist H, Bjerring P. Psycho-oncology Research Unit, Aarhus University Hospital, Barthsgade 5,3 DK8200 Aarhus N, Denmark.

BACKGROUND: The severity of symptoms in asthma and other hypersensitivity-related disorders has been associated with changes in mood but little is known about the mechanisms possibly mediating such a relationship. The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of mood on skin reactivity to histamine by comparing the effects of hypnotically induced emotions on flare and wheal reactions to cutaneous histamine prick tests. METHODS: Fifteen highly hypnotically susceptible volunteers had their cutaneous reactivity to histamine measured before hypnosis at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, and 15 min after the histamine prick. These measurements were repeated under three hypnotically induced emotions of sadness, anger, and happiness presented in a counterbalanced order. Skin reactions were measured as change in histamine flare and wheal area in mm2 per minute. RESULTS: The increase in flare reaction in the time interval from 1 to 3 min during happiness and anger was significantly smaller than flare reactions during sadness (P<0.05). No effect of emotion was found for wheal reactions. Hypnotic susceptibility scores were associated with increased flare reactions at baseline (r=0.56; P<0.05) and during the condition of happiness (r=0.56; P<0.05). CONCLUSION: Our results agree with previous studies showing mood to be a predictor of cutaneous immediate-type hypersensitivity and histamine skin reactions. The results are also in concordance with earlier findings of an association between hypnotic susceptibility and increased reactivity to an allergen.

Schweiz Med Wochenschr Suppl. 1994;62:67-76. Hypnosis and the allergic response. Wyler-Harper J, Bircher AJ, Langewitz W, Kiss A. Dermatologische Universitatsklinik, Kantonsspital Basel.

In recent years our knowledge of the immune system and the pathogenesis of immune disorders has increased. There has been much research on the complex connections between the psyche, the central nervous system and the immune system and the effect of mood on disease processes. This paper reviews the evidence on the effects of hypnosis on the allergic skin test reaction, on allergies, particularly respiratory allergies and hayfever, and on bronchial hyperreactivity and asthma. Hypnosis, which is generally regarded as an altered state of consciousness associated with concentration, relaxation and imagination, and amongst other characteristics an enhanced responsiveness to suggestion, has long been thought to be effective in the amelioration of various bodily disorders. It has seemed that the state of hypnosis is capable of a bridging or mediating function in the supposed dualism between mind and body. There has been great variation in the experimental and clinical procedures such as type of hypnotic intervention employed, the training of subjects and the timing of the intervention. Also, variability in the type of allergen used and its mode of application is evident. But despite these limitations, many of the studies have shown a link between the use of hypnosis and a changed response to an allergic stimulus or to a lessened bronchial hyperreactivity. There is as yet no clear explanation for the effectiveness of hypnosis, but there is some evidence for an influence on the neurovascular component of the allergic response.

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