Life can feel hard in general, so it’s no surprise that allergic diseases such as food allergy, asthma, and atopic dermatitis (commonly called eczema) often add extra layers of stress. Already tasked with managing the day-to-day aspects of these diagnoses, many find themselves navigating social and emotional experiences they might not have been expecting. What’s more, these psychosocial events impact not only the allergic individual, but the whole family system as well.
Thankfully, there’s a growing body of research focused on identifying common social and emotional effects of allergic diseases, as well as interventions aimed at helping individuals and families cope and improve their quality of life.
Food Allergy (FA)
- Parental mental health and quality of life are impacted by the constant stress and vigilance associated with allergen avoidance and potential allergic reactions.
- Unlike generalized anxiety, food allergy anxiety (FAA) is typically associated with FA-specific fears and phobias.
- Manageable levels of FAA can have positive impacts on allergen avoidance and emergency preparedness, whereas ongoing, high levels of FAA can lead to over-avoidant behaviors that can impact quality of life and childhood development.
- Posttraumatic stress symptoms can result from ongoing challenges and burdens, the unpredictable nature of food allergen exposure, and allergic reactions.
- Children and adolescents with FA are twice as likely to be bullied as their nonallergic peers.
- Many adults report having an FA without proper allergist diagnosis, potentially leading to unnecessary food avoidance and negative impacts on quality of life.
- Helpful Coping Tip: Try to find a balance between FAA and quality of life by learning emotional coping skills and allergy management strategies that allow you and your family to have a variety of life experiences safely instead of over-avoiding due to anxiety.
- Limitations on daily activities, disrupted sleep, absenteeism, and increased health-care costs are commonly experienced social and emotional burdens.
- Children with asthma can have a significantly lower quality of life than healthy children, particularly relating to physical, emotional, and school performance.
- Poorly controlled asthma is associated with an increased risk of behavioral problems and mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
- Adolescents suffering from severe asthma, and their parents, can experience anxiety and depression.
- Quality of life for adults with asthma is impacted by a combination of factors, including activity limitation, negative effects on social life and relationships, problems with finding and keeping employment, and reduced productivity.
- Helpful Coping Tip: Try to keep asthma well-controlled and explore emotional coping strategies that include belly breathing and mindfulness exercises. Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, involves taking deep breaths that expand the belly and engage the diaphragm to help calm the body and mind. Allergists specialize in asthma treatment and can help get symptoms under control.
Atopic Dermatitis (AD)
- AD can be extremely hard to live with. The itching can be painful, and many fear it negatively affects their appearance. AD-related quality of life impacts can include social impairment, emotional and behavioral problems, and significant psychological problems, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
- Uncontrolled AD can also lead to sleeping problems and significant caregiver burden.
- Children and adolescents with AD are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, and conduct disorder than children without AD.
- Adults with AD are more likely to have depression and anxiety compared with those without AD.
- Helpful Coping Tip: Focus on figuring out AD management strategies that allow you to practice good self care (especially getting enough sleep) and identify emotional coping skills such as relaxation to help with stress management. Work with your allergist to seek out treatments that reduce the effects of AD on your system.
Talk with Your Allergy Care Team About Your Concerns
If managing the social and emotional impacts of your atopic condition feels stressful and overwhelming, know that you’re not alone. More importantly, know that you don’t have to navigate those feelings alone either!
Your allergy healthcare team is a great place to start if you feel like you need additional support in managing your allergic condition. By discussing your concerns or struggles with them, they can offer useful evidence-based information, skills, and resources, as well as allied health care referrals.
Here’s a brief list of potential topics to discuss with your allergy healthcare team if you’re feeling that the social and emotional impacts of your diagnosis are taking a toll on you or your family:
- Share how allergy-related anxiety and other emotions are impacting your daily functioning, including eating, sleeping, attending school or work.
- Discuss how your diagnosis impacts your quality of life and willingness to engage in a variety of life experiences, including traveling, eating out and social activities.
- For parents and caregivers, talk about how your own emotions (and fears) are impacting your child and their own allergic disease management.
- Explore allergy-related social concerns, including bullying and exclusion, to problem-solve together.
Finally, if you feel as if you could use the support of an allergy-informed licensed clinical mental health care professional, you can locate one in your state on The Food Allergy Counselor Directory at www.FoodAllergyCounselor.com/Directory
Authored by: Tamara Hubbard, MA, LCPC Member, ACAAI Allied Health Committee, Member, ACAAI Public Relations Committee, August 15, 2023.
Cited Source: Michaud A, Hubbard T. Psychosocial impacts of allergic disease. Phys Assist Clin. Published online 2023. doi:10.1016/j.cpha.2023.05.004