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Anxious About Food Allergies? You Are Not Alone
By Beth Puliti
Think you're the only parent who says no to candy bars and yes to rice milk? Think again. More than 12 million people suffer from food allergies according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. But while that may seem like a shockingly large number, many parents still feel alone.
When your child is diagnosed with food allergies, family and friends may not understand your worries. In fact, many people deny the reality that food allergies can create life-threatening reactions. Your ‘problem’ becomes just that, your problem. No one outside your family seems to care much. Even those who do care may not fully understand.
Because of the public's lack of awareness, many parents have to be careful with whom they entrust their children. Beth Santos of BelAir, Maryland, mother of a four-year-old allergic to milk, egg, peanuts and tree nuts, has determined that she and her husband are the only people who can safely feed their son. "I have explained time and time again what foods my son needs to avoid and how to prepare foods so that his food is not cross contaminated with allergens that others may be eating," Beth said. "But for the most part, I do not trust any friends or family to cook for my son because they have, unfortunately, proven themselves to be untrustworthy in their ability to cook and prepare food safely."
Lack of public awareness and understanding of the seriousness of food allergies often forces parents to limit social activities. Birthday parties, play dates, school and family gatherings – once innocent outlets of food and fun – become potentially hazardous situations.
As a parent of a food-allergic child, you know all too well that everywhere you go, there is the possibility food will be present. The thought of food allergens finding their way to your child may leave you feeling anxious every time your child leaves the house without you. Your stress is not unwarranted, but is most likely causing you undue suffering, and perhaps even leading you to needlessly neglect other family members.
"Many parents become so preoccupied with their fears and worries they start to miss other aspects of parenting or start inadvertently neglecting other children who might not have the food allergy problem," said Scott Sheperd, Ph.D., counseling professional and author of Who's In Charge? Attacking the Stress Myth. "Perhaps the biggest thing is that there is no joy in homes that are waiting for disaster."
Constantly worrying about your child's food allergies can affect the mental and physical health of everyone in your family. "The overall effect is that kids are constantly worried," Dr. Sheperd said. "They are probably being stopped from doing things that could be fun because something bad might happen. They start to believe that they are victims and don't see their own options. The worry-filled environment becomes more destructive than the food allergy problem."
There are things you can do to avoid falling into the anxiety trap. Education is essential — educate yourself, others in your life, and your children as they get older. This will reduce the risk of a dangerous reaction and help put you at ease. In addition, seek support and ways to relax, and try to turn your focus to the joys of life rather than its difficulties.
Don't spend your life waiting for disaster. Prevent anxiety by taking control.
"Power is about choices," Dr. Sheperd said. "If you don't see the choice, you don't see the power. We have power over what we think. We don’t have to worry."
Monitor your negative emotions, get involved in your child's outside life and teach others the importance of your child's allergies. Live a healthier physical and mental lifestyle by reducing your anxiety. Your children will thank you.
How to cope
Approved by KFA Medical Advisory Team February 2006