Comorbidity, distress, coping and social support in asthma and allergy

University dissertation from Umeå : Umeå Universitet

Abstract: Asthma and allergies are some of the most common illnesses worldwide that almost everybody will come in contact with. This thesis studied persons with allergic asthma, non-allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatitis in a population-based sample. At an early stage, these illnesses were regarded as psychosomatic. Over time, as knowledge about asthma/allergy has increased more of a biomedical perspective was taken by the research field. In considering early documentations well as contemporary research, a psychobiosocial perspective was taken in this thesis when conducting the three studies. Thus, as psychological factors may affect the illness and be a result of the illness, it is important to incorporate these factors to better understand asthma and allergy. Study I examined the co- and multimorbidity in asthma/allergy with the environmental intolerances in the form of chemical and building-related intolerance. Study II investigated psychological distress in the four forms of asthma and allergy. Psychological distress was in this study defined as stress, burnout, anxiety, depression and environmental health worries. Study III examined usage of problem and emotion focused coping strategies and perceived social support from the surrounding in high and low asthma/allergy severity. All studies were performed using data from the Västerbotten Environmental Health Study, a questionnaire-based survey with focus on various environmental hypersensitivities and asthma and allergy. The result showed that the co- and multimorbidity with the environmental intolerances in asthma/allergy was larger than what was statistically excepted. Those with allergic asthma and atopic dermatitis experienced more stress, burnout and anxiety than those with non-allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis and non-asthma/allergy. Moreover, the most common way of coping with asthma and allergy was found to be strategies such as avoiding environments that are believed to affect health, and trying to accept the situation, independent of asthma/allergy severity. Finally, in general, those with asthma and allergy reported receiving most support from their partner, other family members and health care, and least support was perceived by those with low asthma/allergy severity.The findings suggest that co- and multimorbidity with environmental intolerances is relatively common in asthma and allergy, and should therefore be included in the clinical anamnesis for this patient group. The elevated level of distress in allergic asthma and atopic dermatitis evokes the question of use of therapies such as mindfulness maybe beneficial in certain afflicted persons. The results on coping and social support provide a foundation for further research regarding informing the asthma/allergy patient and family members about effective coping strategies and the importance of adequate social support. A metaperspective is taken in which interrelations between important variables in the thesis are discussed.