When we talk about allergies in children it is easy to focus on what tools the parents need or how best to support the child. It’s easy to forget the main person affected by it all is ‘the child’. Irrespective of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status, the impact of allergies on a child’s mental health cuts across and should be addressed. This easily forgotten aspect of care is important and it helps give a 360 holistic view of the support given to children with allergies. In this blog post, I will like to address the various ways having an allergy can affect the well-being of a child.
Anxiety and fear, especially in the uncertainty of allergies in children, are one of the ways allergies can affect a child. The recovery from the physical symptoms of allergies may take a few days but the psychological ones can linger for a while. Research looking at pediatric patients aged 4-12 years showed that children with food allergies are more likely to suffer from anxiety than children without them.
The research also suggests that food allergy is linked to elevated levels of social anxiety and fear of social rejection and humiliation. This can affect the child’s personality and when identified the child can be supported appropriately. If not well addressed can result in constant anxiety for the child. A practical way to deal with anxiety is to have practice sessions on dealing with situations that lead to anxiety so that the child can gain confidence in handling such situations over time.
The child’s participation in overcoming anxiety can be motivated with praise, reward, and points or stickers as you chart the progress. For teenagers, a different reward system may work better e.g., an extra privilege. Guidance on behaviour is also provided during reintroduction or desensitization programs. The parent can work with the child and the healthcare professional in these sessions to address this too.
Another which is particularly associated with a food allergy is a possible negative relationship with food. This could include food aversions and refusal. It is important to seek help and support if observed in a child with food allergies. To address this, a detailed account of the regular relationship with food (e.g. a 24-hour food recall is needed. Then, the daily practice of approaching such situations or food could be taken a little at a time. It is necessary to take baby steps that are comfortable for the child. The involvement of the child in the preparation of their meal may also help increase confidence.
Sleep deprivation due to allergy symptoms could be observed in children with allergies. These symptoms could affect mood and concentration at school. For such children working with them to improve sleep could play a huge role in improving mood and subsequently concentration at school. Practical tips to help improve sleep could be adopted to help support the child. A bedtime routine can play a huge role in supporting the child to develop a better sleep pattern.
Visible symptoms of allergies in children including eczema and hives could cause low self-esteem. Working with parents with allergies is particularly important for children in their teens when appearance and looks are important. For such children, whilst supporting them to alleviate the impact of such on their health, it is also important to consider their self-esteem; as this may affect their confidence and interaction with their peers. In situations where peers are involved, active education of the peers through the education system may help support such children to feel included.
Another impact of allergies in children could result in a fear of using adrenaline auto-injectors. This can be harmful to their health and highlights the need for the proper education of the child about the need, use, and importance of adrenaline auto-injectors. It is advisable for education on auto-injectors to start early and carry on as the child grows into the teenage years. At each stage, it is necessary to keep the information simple and appropriate for their age.
Finally, isolation around social events such as birthday parties and eating out at restaurants is another impact of allergies in children. This can be difficult to manage especially for birthday parties as this could involve constant education of other parents who may not be aware of the child’s condition or the impact on the affected child. It also can result in nervousness around attending events as it may be safer to stay away. This results in the isolation of the child.
Constant education for people in the child’s network is important as this may be something not under the influence of close family and friends who already know how to support the child.
With all the impact of allergies on children, it is important to seek help and support for each situation the child may be dealing with. I hope you have found this blog post resourceful. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
1. Manassis K (2012) managing Anxiety related to anaphylaxis in childhood: a systematic review. Journal of Allergy. Article ID 316296. Doi.10.1155/2012/316296