Treating allergic reactions
Allergies are a common cause of illness and can occur at any stage in someone’s life. Numerous different things cause allergies from pollen to food to medication, meaning it is not always easy to know the best treatments or home remedies.
What is an allergic reaction?
Many people have allergies, which may cause symptoms such as coughing and sneezing.
An allergic reaction occurs when cells in the immune system interpret a foreign substance or allergen as harmful.
The immune system overreacts to these allergens and produces histamine, which is a chemical that causes allergy symptoms, such as inflammation, sneezing, and coughing.
Mild allergic reactions can usually be treated with home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) medications
Fast facts on treating an allergic reaction:
Most minor allergy symptoms can be treated with antihistamines, corticosteroids, or decongestants.
Saline nasal rinses can be used for congestion-related allergy symptoms.
Corticosteroid creams can treat skin rashes related to allergies.
mmunotherapy is a long-term treatment option for chronic allergy symptoms.
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency, and people should call 911 if they suspect someone is having an anaphylactic reaction.
Treating allergic reactions
Many mild to moderate allergic reactions can be treated at home or with OTC medications. The following treatments are commonly used to reduce the symptoms of an allergic reaction:
Antihistamines can help to treat most minor allergic reactions regardless of the cause. These drugs reduce the body’s production of histamine, which reduces all symptoms, including sneezing, watering eyes, and skin reactions.
Second-generation antihistamines, including Claritin (loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine), are less likely to cause drowsiness than first-generation antihistamines, such as Benadryl.
Antihistamines come in several forms, usually to help deliver the medication closer to the source of the reaction or make it easier to consume, such as:
- oral pills
- dissolvable tablets
- nasal sprays
- eye drops
Antihistamines in these forms are available from pharmacies, to buy online, or on prescription from a doctor.
Antihistamines can also be taken to prevent allergies. Many people with seasonal or pet allergies will begin taking antihistamines when they know they are going to be exposed to an allergen.
A person who is pregnant or has a liver disorder should consult their doctor before taking antihistamines.
Nasal decongestant pills, liquids, and sprays can also help reduce stuffy, swollen sinuses and related symptoms, such as a sore throat or coughing.
However, decongestant medications should not be taken continuously for more than 72 hours.
Nasal decongestants are available over the counter and online.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) may also be used to help temporarily reduce pain, swelling, and cramping caused by allergies.
Avoid the allergen
The best way to treat and prevent allergic reactions is to know what triggers the reaction and stay away from it, especially food allergens.
When this is not possible or realistic, using antihistamines or decongestants when in contact with allergens can help to treat the symptoms.
Use a saline sinus rinse
A saline sinus rinse may treat symptoms such as a runny or itchy nose.
When allergies cause sinus problems, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) recommend a person rinse their sinuses with saline. This can remove allergens and clear the airways.
The AAAAI recommend the following saline recipe:
- mix 3 teaspoons of salt (without iodide) with 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- add 1 teaspoon of this mixture to 8 ounces of boiled water
- dissolve the mixture in the water then use as a saline rinse
Sinus rinsing devices can be purchased online or from a pharmacy.
Treating environmental allergies
For airborne allergens, such as pollen, dust, and mold spores, additional treatment options include:
- throat lozenges with soothing ingredients, such as menthol, honey, or ginger
- shower and wash all clothing after being exposed to an allergen
- exercise for a few minutes to help reduce nasal congestion
Treating allergies on the skin
For allergic reactions that cause skin symptoms, including those associated with allergens found in animal saliva, poisonous plants, drugs, chemicals and metals, additional treatment options include:
- Topical corticosteroid creams or tablets. Corticosteroids contain steroids that reduce inflammation and itching. Mild forms of these creams can be found online, and a doctor can prescribe stronger versions.
- Moisturizing creams. Emollient creams with soothing ingredients, such as calamine can treat skin reactions.
- Bite or sting medication. Medication targeted to reduce allergic reactions to insect bites or stings have a similar effect to other allergy medications.
- Ice pack. Applying an ice pack wrapped in cloth to the area for 10- to 15-minute intervals can reduce inflammation.
Treating severe allergies
People should speak to a professional if they have or suspect that they have severe or chronic allergies. You are always more than welcome to call our clinic for more information.
A doctor can prescribe medications that contain much stronger doses of the compounds found in OTC products.
Treatment options for chronic or severe allergies include:
- Immunotherapy, or allergy shots. Immunotherapy can be between 90 and 98 percent effective at reducing allergic reactions to insect stings, for instance.
- Prescription asthma medications, such as bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids.
- Oral cromolyn can be taken for food allergies.
- Drug desensitization therapy is used for specific allergens.
Natural remedies for allergic reactions
Many traditional medicine systems use herbal supplements and extracts to both treat and prevent allergic reactions, especially seasonal allergies.
Though there is little scientific evidence to support the use of most alternative or natural remedies, some people may find that some can provide relief from their symptoms.
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians recommend the following natural treatments for allergies:
- Dietary changes. A low-fat diet high in complex carbohydrates, such as beans, whole grains, and vegetables may reduce allergy reactions.
- Bioflavonoids. These plant-based chemicals found in citrus fruits and blackcurrants may act as natural antihistamines. These can also be taken as supplements.
- Supplements. Flaxseed oil, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and E are suggested to improve allergy symptoms.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture treatments may help some people to find relief from their symptoms.
The terms diastole and systole refer to when the heart muscles relax and contract. The balance between diastole and systole determines a person’s blood pressure.
The heart is a pump that supplies all tissues and organs of the body with oxygen-rich blood. The heartbeat is caused by the heart muscles relaxing and contracting.
During this cycle, the period of relaxation is called diastole and the period of contraction is called systole.
What are diastole and systole?
Diastole is when the heart muscle relaxes and systole is when the heart muscle contracts.
Diastole is defined by the following characteristics:
- Diastole is when the heart muscle relaxes.
- When the heart relaxes, the chambers of the heart fill with blood, and a person’s blood pressure decreases.
Systole is defined by the following characteristics:
- Systole is when the heart muscle contracts.
- When the heart contracts, it pushes the blood out of the heart and into the large blood vessels of the circulatory system. From here, the blood goes to all of the organs and tissues of the body.
- During systole, a person’s blood pressure increases.
The heart is a pump composed of four chambers. It is divided in the middle into a right and left side, and each side is divided further into two chambers — the upper and lower chambers.
The two upper chambers of the heart called the atria receive the blood that is entering the heart. The two lower chambers are called the ventricles. They pump the blood out of the heart to the rest of the body.
To pump the blood around the body, the heart contracts and then relaxes over and over again in a cycle called the cardiac cycle. The cycle begins when the two atria contract, which pushes blood into the ventricles. Then, the ventricles contract, which forces the blood out of the heart.
The deoxygenated blood that comes back from the body to the right side of the heart is then pumped through the lungs where it picks up oxygen. The oxygenated blood then travels to the left side of the heart and is pumped to the rest of the body.
Diastole and systole affect a person’s blood pressure differently, as follows:
- When the heart pushes blood around the body during systole, the pressure placed on the vessels increases. This is called systolic pressure.
- When the heart relaxes between beats and refills with blood, the blood pressure drops. This is called diastolic pressure.
What is a healthy blood pressure?
Normal blood pressure will be under 120/80 mmHg.
When a person receives their blood pressure results, they will see two numbers that represent the diastole and systole measurements. These measurements are given as millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
The first number is the systolic pressure and the second is the diastolic pressure.
According to the American College of Cardiology’s (ACC) updated 2017 guidelines, the current blood pressure categories are:
- Normal blood pressure: under 120/80 mmHg
- Elevated blood pressure: a systolic pressure of between 120-129 and a diastolic pressure of under 80
- Stage 1 hypertension: a systolic pressure of between 130-139 or a diastolic pressure of between 80 and 89 mmHg
- Stage 2 hypertension: a systolic pressure of at least 140 or a diastolic pressure of at least 90 mmHg
These updated guidelines are likely to place 46 percent of Americans in the category of having high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is always measured when the person is at rest and over several days. Its measurements are also called blood pressure readings.
High blood pressure
Gender and age may increase a person’s risk of high blood pressure.
High blood pressure or hypertensionis when a person has abnormally high pressure against the walls of their blood vessels. This condition develops gradually over many years and may go unnoticed for a long time, as there are often no symptoms.
The following risk factors increase a person’s risk of high blood pressure:
- Age. Blood pressure is usually higher with age.
- Gender. Men are more likelyto have high blood pressure before the age of 55, but women are more likely than men to have the condition after the age of 55.
- Race. High blood pressure is more common in African Americans than Caucasian or Hispanic Americans.
- Family history. Having a family member with high blood pressure increases the risk of a person developing high blood pressure in the future.
- Obesity. A person who is overweight or obese is more likely to develop high blood pressure. This is because a higher volume of blood circulates through blood vessels to supply the cells with oxygen and nutrients. Because there is more blood circulating, there is a higher pressure on the vessel walls.
- Lifestyle habits. A lack of physical activity, smoking tobacco (including second-hand smoking), drinking too much alcohol, consuming too much salt (sodium) or too little potassium, and stressmay increase the risk.
- Certain chronic conditions. Kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea can increase the risk of high blood pressure.
- Pregnancy. In some cases, pregnancy can cause high blood pressure.
When left untreated, high blood pressure can cause complications and, eventually, serious health problems, such as:
- Heart attack. A block in the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a portion of the heart, preventing that portion of the heart from getting oxygen.
- Stroke. A strokehappens when there is a block in the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain, preventing that portion of the brain from getting oxygen.
- Heart failure. Failure of the heart to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands, caused by the increased pressure on the vessels.
- Peripheral artery disease. This is the narrowing of blood vessels other than those that supply the heart or the brain, most commonly of the legs. Blood flow to that part of the body is affected.
- Aneurysm. An aneurysmis the development of an abnormal bulge in a blood vessel wall, which may press on other organs, block blood flow, or eventually burst.
- Chronic kidney disease. Kidney disease can be caused by narrowing of blood vessels in the kidneys, which prevents them from working properly.
Low blood pressure
Low blood pressure or hypotension occurs when a person has abnormally low blood pressure against the walls of their blood vessels.
Risk factors that increase a person’s chance of developing the condition include:
- Age. People older than 65are more likely to experience a drop in blood pressure while standing up, or after eating. Children and young people are more likely to experience a rapid drop in blood pressure accompanied by dizziness, blurred vision, and fainting, which is known as neurally mediated hypotension.
- Certain medications. High blood pressure medicines, including diuretics, can cause hypotension.
- Certain diseases. Conditions such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, and some heart conditions increase the risk of low blood pressure.
- Other factors. Pregnancy, standing in the heat, or standing still for long periods of time can also cause low blood pressure.
A person with mild low blood pressure may experience fatigue, fainting, or dizziness.
More severe forms of low blood pressure can compromise oxygen-rich blood flow to the body’s major organs, including the brain. If this happens, a person may feel sleepy, confused, or light-headed. In serious cases, this can evolve to heart or brain damage.
Certain natural substances have antibacterial properties, but which are safe to use, and when should a person use them?
Prescription antibiotics, such as penicillin, have helped people to recover from otherwise fatal diseases and conditions since the 1940s.
However, people are also turning to natural antibiotics for treatment.
According to the NHS, 1 in 10 people experiences side effects that harm the digestive system after taking antibiotics. Around 1 in 15 people are allergic to this type of medication.
In this article, we look at the evidence behind seven of the best natural antibiotics. We also discuss which to avoid, and when to see a doctor.
Seven best natural antibiotics
Garlic may be an effective treatment against bacteria.
The scientific jury is still out concerning natural antibiotics. While people have used remedies like these for hundreds of years, most treatments have not been thoroughly tested.
However, some show promising results under medical review, and further studies are underway.
With an ongoing increase in drug-resistant bacteria, scientists are looking to nature when developing new medications.
Here, we examine the science behind seven natural antibiotics.
Cultures across the world have long recognized garlic for its preventive and curative powers.
Research has found that garlic can be an effective treatment against many forms of bacteria, including Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. coli). Garlic has even been considered for use against multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.
Since the time of Aristotle, honey has been used as an ointment that helps wounds to heal and prevents or draws out infection.
Healthcare professionals today have found it helpful in treating chronic wounds, burns, ulcers, bedsores, and skin grafts. For example, results of a study from 2016 demonstrate that honey dressings can help to heal wounds.
The antibacterial effects of honey are usually attributed to its hydrogen peroxide content. However, manuka honey fights off bacteria, though it has a lower hydrogen peroxide content.
A 2011 study reported that the best-known type of honey inhibits approximately 60 kinds of bacteria. It also suggests that honey successfully treats wounds infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Antibacterial properties aside, honey may help wounds to heal by providing a protective coating that fosters a moist environment.
The scientific community also recognizes ginger as a natural antibiotic. Several studies, including one published in 2017, have demonstrated ginger’s ability to fight many strains of bacteria.
Researchers are also exploring ginger’s power to combat seasickness and nausea and to lower blood sugar levels.
Echinacea has been used to treat infections for many years.
Native American and other traditional healers have used echinacea for hundreds of years to treat infections and wounds. Researchers are beginning to understand why.
A study published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology reports that extract of Echinacea purpurea can kill many different kinds of bacteria, including Streptococcus pyogenes (S. pyogenes).
S. pyogenes is responsible for strep throat, toxic shock syndrome, and the “flesh-eating disease” known as necrotizing fasciitis.
Echinacea may also fight inflammation associated with bacterial infection.
Goldenseal is usually consumed in tea or capsules to treat respiratory and digestive problems. However, it may also combat bacterial diarrhea and urinary tract infections.
In addition, results of a recent study support the use of goldenseal to treat skin infections. In a lab, goldenseal extracts were used to prevent MRSA from damaging tissue.
A person taking prescription medications should check with a doctor before taking goldenseal, as this supplement can cause interference.
Goldenseal also contains berberine, an important component of natural antibiotics. This alkaloid is not safe for infants, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Clove has traditionally been used in dental procedures. Research is now finding that clove water extract may be effective against many different kinds of bacteria, including E. coli.
Some believe that oregano boosts the immune system and acts as an antioxidant. It may have anti-inflammatory properties.
While researchers have yet to verify these claims, some studies show that oregano is among the more effective natural antibiotics, particularly when it is made it into an oil.
Risks of natural antibiotics
Just because something is labeled natural, it is not necessarily safe.
The amounts and concentrations of active ingredients vary among brands of supplements. Read labels carefully. A person should also inform their healthcare provider if they plan to take these supplements.
While cooked garlic is usually safe to consume, research suggests that taking concentrated garlic may increase the risk of bleeding. This can be dangerous for people facing surgery or taking blood thinners.
Garlic concentrates may also reduce the usefulness of HIV medications.
Certain products should be avoided, including colloidal silver. This substance consists of microscopic pieces of silver suspended in water.
Colloidal silver has been recommended as a treatment for a variety of diseases, including the bubonic plague and HIV. However, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, it can be dangerous, and no credible studies back up these uses.
Taking colloidal silver supplements may interfere with the effectiveness of antibiotics and medication used to treat an underactive thyroid gland.
Silver can also build up in the body and turn the skin bluish-gray. This condition is called argyria and is permanent in most people.
Epistaxis, or a nosebleed, is generally caused by a broken blood vessel in the nose or sinuses. Bleeding from the nose, especially when blowing it, is very common and usually not a cause for concern.
An estimated 60 percent of people experience nosebleeds but only around 6 percent of cases require medical attention.
It can be hard to determine what causes broken blood vessels in the nose. However, there are several factors that may contribute to or cause the nose to bleed when blowing it.
Blood appearing when blowing the nose may be caused by dry nasal cavities, an injury, nose picking, or blowing too hard.
Common causes of blood appearing when blowing the nose include:
* blowing the nose too hard or too frequently
* inflammation or mucosal irritation caused by infection or allergies
* very dry nasal cavities or sinuses
* prolonged inhalation of very dry or cold air
* nose picking
* antibiotic medications
* blood thinning medications, such as warfarin, aspirin, and clopidogrel
* injury to the nose or face
* environmental factors, such as humidity or being at a high altitude
* abnormalities in the septum, which is the wall that separates the nostrils
Less common causes of nosebleeds include:
* nasal, sinus, face, or eye surgery
* foreign bodies in the nose
* nasal polyps or tumors
* inflammatory conditions
* high blood pressure
* holes in the septum
* blood disorders, such as low blood platelet levels and anemia
* conditions affecting the blood vessels, such as arteriosclerosis
* leukemia, a type of blood cancer conditions affecting the immune system
* liver or kidney problems
* scurvy, or severe vitamin C deficiency
* congestive heart failure
* chronic use or overuse of certain herbal supplements, most commonly vitamin E and gingko biloba
* exposure to toxic chemicals
* use of illicit drugs, especially cocaine
Some hereditary or genetic conditions that cause abnormal bleeding can also lead to blood appearing when the nose is blown. These conditions include:
* von Willebrand disease
* hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia
* factor VIII deficiency (hemophilia A)
* factor IX deficiency (hemophilia B)
* factor XI deficiency
Gently and firmly pinching the nose may be a recommended treatment option for bleeding noses.
In most cases, a nosebleed or minor bleeding from the nose eventually stops on its own after a few minutes.
There are a few at-home remedies, however, that may encourage nosebleeds to stop earlier or reduce the amount of bleeding.
Basic treatment options for bleeding noses include:
* laying down flat with the head tilted backward to reduce blood flow to the nose
* relaxing and breathing through the mouth
* not touching or picking the nose once it has stopped bleeding
* laying down or resting in a seated position for a few hours after the bleeding has stopped
* gently but firmly pinching the nose, especially if the site of the bleeding is known
Around 90 percent of nosebleeds occur in the front bottom portion of the septum, the fleshy wall that divides the nostrils.
Prolonged or repetitive nosebleeds, or those caused by an underlying medical condition, require medical attention and treatment.
If nosebleeds are severe, a person may require more aggressive treatment to prevent extensive blood loss.
Medical treatment options include:
* nasal packing, where sterile cotton pads or dressings are packed into the nostril to limit bleeding
* topical medications to limit bleeding, known as local hemostatic agents
* topical antiseptic and antibiotic ointments and creams
* sealing a blood vessel shut using an electrical device or chemical such as silver nitrate
* surgery where the blood vessel is packed with sterile materials to block it off
* surgery where the blood vessel is tied together to seal it shut
* clotting medications
* blood transfusions
In many cases, there is no specific way to avoid nosebleeds, but there are some things that may help prevent or reduce the risk of them.
Blowing the nose gently and not picking at the skin can usually prevent minor bleeding.
Other tips for preventing bleeding when blowing the nose include:
* using over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays or pills to treat allergies
* applying over-the-counter nasal lubricants or petroleum jelly in the nostrils to prevent dryness
* using saline sprays to prevent dryness
* avoiding picking the nose, especially scabs
* avoiding blowing the nose aggressively or too frequently
* protecting the nose from cold or dry air by using a scarf
* not overusing or misusing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and antibiotics
* reducing inflammation and nasal congestion by using a nasal or sinus rinse
* avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals
* not using illicit drugs, especially cocaine
One example of a nasal rinse is a Neti pot. These are commonly available online and can be used at home.
When to see a doctor
If nosebleeds are chronic or repetitive, a healthcare professional should be consulted.
People should seek medical attention anytime a nosebleed does not stop naturally within 20 minutes. They should also seek medical attention if it does not respond to initial treatments, such as applying pressure.
Although nosebleeds tend to be harmless, severe or prolonged nosebleeds can cause serious blood loss, especially in:
* young children
* people over the age of 65
* people with immune conditions
It is also important to talk with a doctor about chronic or repetitive nosebleeds.
Chronic nosebleeds can be a sign of underlying medical conditions, such as blood or inflammatory disorders. Repetitive nosebleeds can also be a sign of nasal deformities or tumors, especially when they only involve one nostril.
People should also seek medical attention if nosebleeds are accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
* pain or tenderness around the eyes
* stuffy nose that continues to get worse and will not clear
* mucus that drips in the back of the throat
* change in the appearance of the nose or surrounding area
* pus in the nose
* chronic watery eyes
* reduced sense of smell
* change in vision
* enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
* pain or pressure in the ears
* hearing loss
* numbness in the face
* loosening, numbness, or pain in the teeth
* difficulty opening the mouth
Bleeding from the nose when blowing it is a common experience. It is usually due to inflamed or damaged nasal tissues and blood vessels, and is not a cause for concern.
Nosebleeds are generally harmless, and stop on their own or after applying gentle pressure to the area.
Severe or repetitive nosebleeds can be a sign of an underlying medical condition that may require treatment, such blood disorders or obstructions.
People should speak with a doctor about severe or repetitive nosebleeds, especially when accompanied by additional symptoms.
Does the gut hold the key to prevention?
Targeting specific microbiota in the gut could be one way to protect against type 1 diabetes, a new study concludes.
Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia have found distinct gut microbiota alterations in rodents and humans that are at high risk of type 1 diabetes.
Furthermore, the scientists found that these gut microbiota alterations were a result of genetic susceptibility to type 1 diabetes, as well as changes in immune system functioning.
Researchers findings suggest that targeting the gut microbiota might have the potential to prevent type 1 diabetes.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakingly attacks and destroys the beta cells, or those that produce insulin, of the pancreas. As a result, not enough insulin is made, and this can lead to an increase in blood sugar levels.
Type 1 diabetes accounts for around 5 percent of all diabetes cases, and onset of the condition is most common in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.
Type 1 diabetes and the gut
Although the precise cause of type 1 diabetes remains unclear, it is known that those who possess certain genetic variants are at greater risk of the condition.
For example, susceptibility to type 1 diabetes is higher among individuals who have variants of the human leukocyte antigen complex, such as the HLA-DQA1, HLA-DQB1, and HLA-DRB1 genes. These are genes that play a role in immune system functioning.
Research also suggested that changes in gut microbiota — or the population of microorganisms that reside in the intestine — play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes.
However it is unclear whether such changes in gut microbiota are driven by genetic susceptibility to type 1 diabetes or other factors. The team sought to find out with the new study.
First, they conducted an analysis of non-obese mouse models that were genetically susceptible to type 1 diabetes. They looked at whether the rodents’ gut microbiota differed to that of mice that were protected against type 1 diabetes, and, if so, whether genetic susceptibility played a role.
The results of the analysis revealed that the mouse models with genetic susceptibility to type 1 diabetes demonstrated alterations in gut microbiota composition. Specifically, they showed reductions in Ruminococcus, Lachnospiraceae, and Clostridiales bacteria.
What is more, the scientists found that these alterations were associated with changes in immune system functioning.
The study also found that using immunotherapy to target T cells — which are a type of white blood cell — related to type 1 diabetes led to significant changes in the gut microbiota of rodents.
A route for prevention?
The researchers were able to confirm their findings in a study of humans with genetic susceptibility to type 1 diabetes.
Researchers now plan to assess clinical trials of immunotherapies for type 1 diabetes, with the aim of finding out whether the treatment led to changes in gut microbiota.
If so, the researchers say that it could then be possible to protect against type 1 diabetes by restoring protective gut microorganisms.
“This research has show there is a genetic component to microbiota and the immune response involved in regulating it. This means that changes in the microbiota in type 1 diabetes occur before symptoms develop, and are not just a side effect of the disease.
Therapies targeting the microbiota could therefore have the potential to help prevent type 1 diabetes in the future.
Lovers’ heartbeats and respiration patterns tend to synchronize when the partners are simply in each other’s presence. But what does the role of touch play in this synchronization, and what happens when one of the partners is experiencing pain?
Have you ever noticed that when you walk alongside your partner, your steps tend to synchronize? Or that when you speak to a close friend, you tend to adopt the same posture as them?
The scientific name for this is “behavioral synchrony,” and it refers to the human ability to synch up with other people for the sake of living in a society.
Some studies have shown that people are not only able to synchronize their behavior, but that they can also sync up their physiology.
“Interpersonal synchronization” can manifest in various ways. For example, when people watch the same movie, their brain activity synchronizes. Similarly, when lovers stare into each other’s eyes, their hearts quite literally beat as one.
New research carried out by scientists at University of Colorado (CU) Boulder explores the role of touch in driving interpersonal synchronization in the context of pain.
The team was led by Pavel Goldstein, a postdoctoral pain researcher in the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at CU Boulder, and the findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Studying pain and touch in couples
Dr. Goldstein and colleagues gathered 22 heterosexual couples for their study, who were all aged between 23 and 32.
The researchers asked the couples to participate in a range of tests that replicated the experience of being in a delivery room.
The female participants were assigned the role of “pain receiver,” while the men were “pain observers.”
Dr. Goldstein and team recorded the participants’ respiration rates and heartbeats using an electrocardiogram under both pain and no pain conditions, as well as in both touch and no touch conditions.
Under the no pain condition, the couples either sat together without touching, sat together while holding hands, or were in separate rooms. In the pain scenario, all three situations were repeated, but the woman was subjected to “mild heat pain” for 2 minutes.
Touch restores synchronicity, eases pain
The study confirmed previous findings and showed that couples do synchronize physiologically just by being in each other’s company.
When the woman was subjected to pain and her partner did not touch her, that physiological coupling was considerably diminished. However, when the male partner held her hand, heart rates and respiration rates synched up again, and the woman’s pain was reduced. Additionally, holding hands increased the male partner’s empathy.
Overall, touch seems to play a key role in interpersonal synchronization, as it increased physiological coupling regardless of whether the woman was in pain or not.
This confirms Dr. Goldstein’s previous research, in which he showed that the more empathetic a man is toward a woman, the less pain the woman feels.
It appears that the more physiologically synched we are, the more our pain subsides. However, the researchers do not know whether lower-intensity pain increases interpersonal synchronicity, or whether it is the other way around.
“It could be that touch is a tool for communicating empathy, resulting in an analgesic, or pain-killing, effect,” Dr. Goldstein says. Interpersonal coupling may also enhance the analgesic effects of touch using the autonomic nervous system, the authors hypothesize.
Dr. Goldstein also supposes that interpersonal synchronization may affect a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex, which has been associated with decision-making, social interactions, pain perception both in oneself and in others, and empathy.
But more research is needed, he concedes, to understand the precise mechanism by which a partner’s touch helps to diminish pain.
Limitations of the study include the fact that it did not examine same-sex couples or the effect of touch on men experiencing pain.