Treatment of Panic Attacks – Similar to Treatment For Allergies?

If you have ever had a panic attack, you know how disabling they can be. Panic attacks are very common and when they start to happen frequently, they can seriously impair functioning at home, school, work, and in public – it can become panic disorder. There are different treatments for panic disorder, including medications and psychotherapy.

One of the most successful treatments for panic disorder is CBT – cognitive behavior therapy. I recently read an interesting analogy for the use of exposure treatment in CBT for panic disorder which compared it to treatment of chronic allergies.

This analogy comes from Michael Perlis, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania*:

“…allergies are caused by an immune system that is overly sensitive to environmental triggers, or allergens. Instead of having little or no reaction when exposed to, say, pollen, an allergy sufferer’s immune system launches a dramatic response, resulting in the misery of an allergy attack. In anxiety, the nervous system overreacts, rather than the immune system. Anxious people overact to a ‘psychological allergen’ (i.e., a sense of risk, threat, or danger), and their nervous system’s response leads to the misery of an anxiety attack. Just as allergy sufferers can be successfully desensitized by exposure to gradually increasing doses of allergens, people who suffer from the psychological allergy of anxiety can be desensitized, too. This is accomplished by gradually exposing anxious patients to the very stimuli, situations, or events that evoke their anxiety. Over time, the anxious person’s nervous system calms down and, just as with allergy desensitization treatment, eventually stops overreacting to whatever used to set it off.”

I quote here because I think this is a great way to think about panic attacks. If you are suffering from panic attacks or panic disorders, you can consider CBT as a type of “allergen” treatment. Over time, this type of treatment can be highly effective and reduce or eliminate the need for medication for panic attacks.

*The Carlat Report – Psychiatry. April 2017, page 2.

Live Mentally Healthy,
Dr. Jennie Byrne

Dr. Jennie Byrne, M.D., PhD.

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