Living with Anaphylaxis:
Handling the Stress
by Mary Allen, AAIA Regional Coordinator, Quebec
Used by author's permission. Appeared in AAIA National
News, Vol 1 No. !, April 1998.
The diagnosis of a severe food allergy
brings a significant amount of anxiety, especially for the parents
of an anaphylactic child. The stress level is greatest in
the months following the diagnosis but it can significantly increase
when there is a change in life style, such as the start of school
or a move. Sometimes the stress of worrying about the allergy
causes more problems than the food itself, which is usually successfully
Over the years I have gathered some information on this subject,
some of it coming from professionals and some from AAIA members,
who are a resourceful group of people. Perhaps you will find
it helpful, particularly if you are "new" to the business of coping
with a severe food allergy.
There are four principal sources of
It is not easy to be relaxed while living
with the threat of food-induced anaphylaxis, since it is potentially
life-threatening. Peanut allergies are particularly stressful
because tiny trace amounts have caused fatal reactions and because
peanut butter is so widely used by young children. Since it
is so sticky, there is always the worry that it will adhere to toys,
clothing, hands, face or cutlery. The start of kindergarten
is usually a very stressful time for parents.
- The potential seriousness of anaphylactic
- The inconvenience and changes in
lifestyle -- difficulty with shopping, having to read labels,
continuously having to explain the allergy.
- Feeling isolated and feeling that
relatives, friends and others do not understand.
- Letting go -- trusting the child
and others to deal with the allergy.
Those who learn to cope well are usually flexible, resourceful, optimistic
and positive. They have legitimate concerns and fears, but they
take a pragmatic approach to problem solving and try to live reasonably
happy and contented lives. A positive outlook is important
because the allergic child will adopt and reflect the attitude of
the parents. Constant uncontrolled anxiety will affect both
parents and child and can have a negative impact on family relationships.
The following tips may help to reduce
NOTE: This is not intended
as a substitute for professional advice.
- Get a good diagnosis from a certified
allergist. Find out exactly what foods have to be avoided
and know what to do in an emergency - be prepared. Maintain
an ongoing relationship with the same physician, if feasible.
- Join the AAIA and try to join a
support group if one exists in your region.
- Keep a supply of "safe" snacks
handy, at home and when travelling.
- Concentrate on what you CAN have,
not on what you cannot have!
- Do not assume that government,
manufacturers or anyone else can totally look after your needs.
Learn to bake at home. Learn how to make substitutions when
- Shop carefully and educate yourself
about manufacturing processes. Learn to correctly read ingredient
labels. Read them every time you buy a product, in case
the ingredients have changed.
- Accept that the allergy will mean
some limitations, but that you can have an "almost normal" lifestyle.
- Put the allergy in perspective.
The actual number of food allergy deaths is small. Some
reactions are fatal but prompt emergency treatment saves lives.
Most deaths are preventable.
- Carry your emergency medications
always and everywhere. Carry extras when far
from a hospital. Wear a Medic
Alert bracelet. Get clear emergency instructions
from your allergist.
- Do not obsess on the "what ifs."
Decide that if you are careful and prepared things will probably
work out for the best. Food allergies are definitely
a challenge, but, fortunately, most children with food allergy
manage very well.
- Try not to make "eating out" the
focus of all family activities.
- Reassure your child that he or
she can play sports and do almost everything else that other children
do. Plan ahead when social occasions involve food....send
snacks prepared at home, unless you and your child are very confident
about what will be served.
- Inform friends, teachers and family
about the allergy in a clear, concise, calm manner and give them
time to absorb the information. Explain implications
for cooking and serving food in detail. Repeat as often
as necessary, firmly and cheerfully. Be very specific about
what they can do to help you and tell them that you need their
support. Be patient while you try to make them understand
the seriousness of the condition.
- Make sure that asthma is stabilized
and properly treated; out of control asthma can increase
the severity of an anaphylactic reaction.
- Enlist the support of school nurses
and other professionals. They will increase your credibility.
Have a letter from your physician and make copies for schools
and other care givers. Give it to relatives as well.
- Schedule meetings with care givers
before the school year begins, to set in place a management plan
for children with life threatening allergies. Most school
boards now have policies which state that schools have a responsibility
to help ensure the safety of the allergic child. If your
board or school does not have a written policy, offer to work
- Learn to recognize, accept and
control your anxiety. Have a support system. Some
anxiety is inevitable but it can be minimized. See a professional
if necessary, to learn how to manage anxiety.
- Enlist the support of your spouse
and make an effort to give some extra attention to non-allergic
siblings, who may feel left out or unnecessarily restricted by
- Teach your child to be extra responsible
in all aspects of life, at an early age. It is important
for his social and emotional development that he not be overprotected.
For his or her own safety, the child needs to take responsibility
for the allergy as soon as possible. Small things like learning
to pick up toys and to make his/her own bed can prepare the child
to be assertive and self-reliant when dealing with the food allergy.
Reduce your stress and join
the AAIA today! Support groups and email/phone counselling are
available across Canada.
Box 100, Toronto, Ontario M9W 5K9
Phone (416) 679-9521 or 1-800-611-7011 Fax: (416) 679-9524
Web site: http://www.aaia.ca
of Use: The information
on this site does not constitute medical advice and is for your
general information only. We cannot be held responsible for anything
you could possibly do or say because of information on this site.
Consult your family physician or allergist for specific questions
This article courtesy of the Allergy/Asthma
Information Association at www.aaia.ca and the Calgary Allergy Network
web site at www.calgaryallergy.ca. May be reproduced for educational,
non-profit purposes with proper attribution.
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