Can illness perceptions and coping predict psychological distress amongst allergy sufferers?


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Rebecca Knibb, Psychology, Faculty of Education Health and Sciences, University of Derby, Kedleston Road, Derby, DE22 1GB (e-mail:


Objective. The aim of the present study was to measure the extent to which illness perceptions and coping strategies are associated with the levels of psychological distress amongst allergy sufferers.

Design and method. One hundred and fifty-six allergy sufferers (all members of Allergy U.K.) completed a postal survey consisting of the Revised Illness Perception Questionnaire (IPQ-R) and the COPE. Psychological distress was measured using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28) and the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS).

Results. Multiple regression analyses indicated that illness perceptions explained between 6 and 26% of variance on measures of psychological distress; coping strategies explained between 12 and 25%. A strong illness identity and emotional representations of the allergy were associated with higher levels of psychological distress; as were less adaptive coping strategies such as focusing on and venting of emotions. Strong personal control beliefs were associated with the lower levels of distress, as were adaptive coping strategies such as positive reinterpretation and growth. Coping partially mediated the link between the illness perceptions and the outcome; however, illness identity, emotional representations and personal control retained an independent significant association with psychological distress.

Conclusion. The findings support a role for illness perceptions and coping in explaining levels of psychological distress amongst allergy sufferers. This has implications for targeted health interventions aimed at reducing the strength of illness identity and emotional representations and increasing a sense of control and the use of more adaptive coping strategies.