The effect of academic exam stress on mucosal and cellular airway immune markers among healthy and allergic individuals


  • This study was partly funded by a Southern Methodist University URC (University Research Council) grant (401608) to TR. We thank Nicole Briceno, Susan Pandey Joshi, and Fran Brewer for their help in collecting and analyzing the data and Alicia E. Meuret for helpful comments.

Address correspondence to: Ana F. Trueba, Department of Psychology, Southern Methodist University, 6116 N. Central Expressway, Dallas, Texas, 75206. E-mail:


Research suggests that psychological stress can exacerbate allergies, but relatively little is known about the effect of stress on mucosal immune processes central to allergic pathophysiology. In this study, we quantified vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), interferon gamma (IFN-γ), and interleukin-4 concentrations in saliva (S) and exhaled breath condensate (EBC) during final exams and at midsemester among 23 healthy and 21 allergic rhinitis individuals. IFN-γs decreased during exams for both groups while VEGFEBC increased (and increases in VEGFs were a trend). Elevated negative affect ratings predicted higher VEGFEBC in allergic individuals. IFN-γEBC increased in healthy individuals early during exams and then decreased, while allergic individuals showed a decrease in IFN-γEBC throughout final exams. These findings suggest that psychological stress can suppress cellular immune function among allergic individuals while increasing VEGF.