Food allergies may seem like a small problem on the scale of things you worry about when it comes to your kids, but for some, it's a huge and life-saving priority. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately four to six percent of children in America suffer from food allergies, which translates to about three million. And if you're a mom to one of those children, you know how awful it can be.
But while you keep close tabs on everything from what you pack in your child's lunch to what they're exposed to at school, that same anxiety can bubble up in your child, a study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health confirmed. Fears in children can manifest as a constant worry of accidentally eating something they're allergic to and suffering the inevitable and dreaded reaction, such as hives or difficulty breathing. Social anxiety can also become a worrisome issue because children don't want to seen as different from their peers.
Dr. Jennifer Gentile, PsyD., a psychologist who treats patients via the telehealth app LiveHealth Online, spoke to POPSUGAR about food allergy anxiety in kids. "Because we can't always control our environment, allergic reactions are not usually anticipated or predicted, so children may result in a looming sense of doom about when the next one will occur," she said. "From a physiological perspective, when a child experiences an allergic reaction, the hormones secreted during that reaction result in the same physiological experience that happens when a person experiences anxiety. Therefore the body has a good memory for heightened responses due to potential danger, and this can translate into maintenance of the anxious state in the absence of the allergen or allergic reaction."
As heartbreaking as it can be to see your child struggle with anxiety over their food allergy, there are steps you can take to help ease their worry. Dr. Gentile recommends that parents find ways to normalize the food allergy condition, explaining that "children are quite skilled at reading the effect of those around them. When they see a caregiver or other trusted adult worried, this usually triggers their own anxiety."
Parents can can also help reduce anxiety by reassuring their child that safety nets are in place and that the adults nearby are always educated on how to help, if needed. Along with using the assistance of their pediatrician or allergist, educating your child about their food allergies and the risks involved can help ease anxiety in the long run.