January 10, 2007
Time Magazine article on Food Allergies
Allergies at the Dinner Table
For children with food allergies and their parents, an allergy isn't just a medical condition, it's a psychologically taxing way of life
Stuffing. Candied yams. Baked ham. And lots of cakes and cookies. For most of us, the holidays are largely about food, and that s what makes them so enjoyable. But for families with food-allergic children, the holidays are all about food—and that's what makes them so terrifying.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology estimates that 6 to 8% of children suffer from severe food allergies, and though no one can agree on exactly why, the number of young sufferers has grown significantly over the past couple of decades. Nearly 90% are caused by milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish or tree nuts. On January 1, a federal law took effect requiring food labels to state clearly whether a product contains any one of those main eight culprits. But significant difficulties—not necessarily medical—remain. A food allergy diagnosis has a tremendous impact on the psychological wellbeing of the entire family, says Anne Muñoz-Furlong, founder and CEO of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a nonprofit patient advocacy group.
The holidays are especially difficult, says Remi Hahn, whose 4-year-old daughter Olivia is severely allergic to dairy, eggs, mustard and sesame. The most stressful thing is the lack of control, Hahn says. One undetected wrong morsel and her daughter could be on her way to the hospital.
Several hospitals around the country are in the process of developing psychiatric programs specifically for families with food allergies. According to Anaphylaxis: How Do You Live With It?, a 2005 article in Health and Social Work, coping with a child who has a severe allergy is similar to dealing with a chronic disease. In a study of 17 families with children with anaphylaxis, the authors describe the profound psychosocial impact on parents of knowing an illness can cause death. "I was completely shocked and surprisingly emotional," says Stefanie Jones, who burst into tears when daughter Darby was diagnosed four months ago with egg, milk, wheat, and peanut allergies. "I realized I'm going to have that weird kid at the party with the dairy-free, prune juice cookies."
Children, of course, bear the brunt. "The emotional toll is huge," says Muñoz-Furlong. "It tends to wear them down, particularly after they have a reaction." Some children lose the ability to trust people. They may want to stay home all the time within a controlled environment. If they have a reaction at home, they may become afraid that even their parents can't control the allergy. Others are fearful of food or develop eating disorders. They might become hypochondriac, phobic, or suffer from panic attacks or post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Many see counselors who teach them relaxation tips and how to speak up about their allergies.
For Jill Mindlin, watching her 5-year-old daughter suffer—more times than any parent should—through an anaphylactic reaction to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, or seeds is torture because she sees the effect it has on Maya. One of the symptoms of food allergy is dread, Mindlin explains. She knows something is very wrong and literally tries to jump out of skin. It's unbearable to watch. As a result, Maya tends to shut down around food and new people. Some of Maya's first words, her mother says, were "Read the 'gredients."
And that's just what her daughter goes through. To cope with her own stress, Mindlin not only founded a local support group, she attends allergy conferences and lobbies local and state governments to protect food-allergic kids in school. One parent in Mindlin's support group had to ask the principal to intervene when kids at her child's elementary school were bullying her son, chasing him around the schoolyard with peanut butter.
Posted by David at January 10, 2007 1:02 AM
And my 3 year old son would already ask "Is it gluten free?" when he was offered treats.
Parenting a child with allergies is tough. I can only imagine how much harder if those allergies are life threatening.
Posted by: Monique Attinger at January 19, 2007 5:49 AM
If there are any studies done on adults with food allergies I would diffently be interested in any and all information.
Posted by: Dawn at January 22, 2007 1:46 PM