Allergy/Asthma Information Association

Living with Anaphylaxis: Handling the Stress

by Mary Allen, AAIA Regional Coordinator, Quebec

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 avoided.

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 stress:

  1. The potential seriousness of anaphylactic reactions.
  2. The inconvenience and changes in lifestyle -- difficulty with shopping, having to read labels, continuously having to explain the allergy.
  3. Feeling isolated and feeling that relatives, friends and others do not understand.
  4. Letting go -- trusting the child and others to deal with the allergy.

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.

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 anxiety:

NOTE: This is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

Reduce your stress and join the AAIA today! Support groups and email/phone counselling are available across Canada.

from AAIA National News, Vol 1 No 1, April 1998

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