Food allergies are becoming an increasingly prevalent health issue, with an estimated 1 in 10 Australian children currently experiencing a food related allergy (Osborne, 2011, as in Sanagavarapu, 2011). Whilst many people are aware of the physical ramifications associated with allergies, fewer people are aware of the significant psychosocial implications for allergy sufferers and their families.
An allergy can be defined as the body’s adverse immune response to proteins within foods or other substances. For some this response can be mild, but for others ingestion of the allergen can lead to anaphylaxis and include symptoms such as hives or skin rashes, swelling of the throat and mouth, vomiting and loss of consciousness (Evans & Rouf, 2014). The most common food allergens in Australia at present are milk, eggs, peanuts, treenuts (e.g. walnuts and cashews), sesame, fish and shellfish, wheat and soy. There is no cure for food allergies and patients manage their condition by avoiding contact with the allergen and treating any reactions using antihistamines and administering adrenaline, in the form of an Epipen (Sanagavarapu, 2011). Many children will grow out of their allergies with time, but for other children and adults it is a lifelong condition that can adversely impact upon their quality of life.
While avoiding certain foods may seem simple, living with an allergy is anything but. Allergy sufferers and their families have reported a range of psychosocial concerns including stress and anxiety, post-traumatic stress, fears regarding safety and worries about bullying (AAAMI, 2016). Many families help to ease these fears by avoiding eating outside of the home, restricting social activities and even declining invitations to birthday parties or school excursions where unknown food and peer pressure may be present. Children often feel excluded and different and this may negatively affect their self-esteem and self-confidence (Evans & Rouf, 2014). Psychologists can help families to think of allergies as not just a medical issue but also a social one. Furthermore they can assist families to develop positive coping strategies and sufferers to accept and adjust to having a medical condition (Evans & Rouf, 2014). Having a psychologist involved in the care of allergies can be overwhelmingly beneficial.
Here at Synaptic Health we are fortunate to have psychologist Emma Warner as part of our multidisciplinary team. Emma is not only very knowledgeable on the psychosocial implications of allergies, but is also the mother of a child with severe food allergies herself. Call us on 6162 2058 to make an appointment, or to discuss how our services may be of assistance to yourself or your family.
- American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. (2016, March). Mental health concerns among youth with food allergy. Retrieved from https://www.aaaai.org/global/latest-research-summaries/New-Research-from-JACI-In-Practice/mental-health-food-allergy
- Esselman, M. (2016, June). Allergy’s high anxiety. How to tame kids’ fears of food reactions. Retrieved from https://allergicliving.com/2016/07/16/allergys-high-anxiety-tame-kids-fears-food-reactions/
- Evan, K. & Rouf, K. Living with severe food allergy. The Psychologist, 27, 334-337.
- Sanagavarapu, P. (2011, December 11). Psychosocial affects of food allergy: What do they mean for educators pracrice in early childhood settings? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://learning21c.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/psychosocial-affects-of-food-allergy-what-do-they-mean-for-educators-practice-in-early-childhood-settings/