Actually having a food allergy can be stressful for many reasons, but the stress of the unknown can also be powerful. Studies have found that when children are perceived or thought to have a food allergy, without having received a diagnosis, it can have a serious impact on the family and the individual. Learning more about food allergies and how to manage them can help, but most importantly, get a diagnosis from an allergist.
The Impact of a Suspected Food Allergy
A group of researchers set out to find out how families were impacted by suspected food allergy by interviewing 124 parents who were visiting a clinic to get a child screened. The vast majority, more than 86 percent, reported that the suspected food allergy impacted their lives, and three quarters said they had already started making changes to their child’s diet. One third of the parents reported serious anxiety leading up to the clinic visit, while 17 percent reported depression.
This study and others also make it clear that it is mothers who suffer the most. This may be related to the fact that mothers are often expected to provide more direct care for children, but whatever the cause, mothers are carrying more of the psychological burden of having a child with a suspected food allergy than other family members.
Another study compared the quality of life of parents whose children were medically diagnosed with a food allergy to those whose children were parentally diagnosed. Compared to a control group, both types of parents experienced higher stress and lower quality of life. Parents who diagnosed their children experienced poorer quality of life in general, as compared to parents whose children were medically diagnosed.
The Importance of Information and Diagnosis
It is clear that worrying about food allergies is stressful for parents and families. While getting a real diagnosis may also trigger stress, it is better to know than to only suspect. One study of the parents of children diagnosed with peanut allergies found that a lack of information at the time of the diagnosis created a great deal of anxiety. Mothers in particular reported feeling unprepared, unable to manage risks and inadequately supported. They felt the most responsible for keeping a child safe and bore the stress of that responsibility.
This would be fairly easy to remedy, if doctors provided families with more information and resources. With any disease or illness, a diagnosis should be accompanied by information, support and sources of additional information and support. It is irresponsible of medical professionals to give a diagnosis and then leave families on their own to deal with it. Families should be proactive, though, knowing they may not be given all the information. Ask questions and demand answers as well as information about where to go next.
Another factor that can relieve the stress of food allergies is having access to epinephrine injectors. A study found that both the mother and the child experience reduced stress and anxiety after being given the prescription for the injector.
Food allergies are always stressful to some degree, but not knowing can be worse. Not only does not knowing put a child at greater risk of harm, it may cause more worry over the unknown. If you suspect your child may have a food allergy, see your pediatrician and get a recommendation for an allergist so you can get an accurate diagnosis and the right information.