Anaphylaxis and Anxiety

For most parents of severely allergic children the focus of their concern is ensuring that their child does not come into contact with their allergen. But while some children remain relatively carefree - relying on their parents to do the worrying for them - others take the responsibility for managing their condition on their own shoulders and become unreasonably anxious and concerned. The following article by a member of the American Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network - - illustrates the dangers.

Our 10-year-old son Stephen was diagnosed with a severe milk allergy as an infant but had no further reactions until he was eight. However, this episode catapulted him into unexpected and long-lasting anxiety.

He became very anxious about having another reaction, developing what he described as a constant companion, a ‘nervous feeling in his stomach’.

He refused to eat whole groups of safe foods and drew up lengthy lists of rules for what food we could buy or prepare. He avoided touching surfaces away from home, washed his hands repeatedly and asked us to do the same. Our vacation, taken a few weeks after the reaction, left us at our wits' end.

We sought help from a mental health therapist who pointed out that this was the second reaction within a year, the first time that I had misread a label and the first time that he did not ask for assistance immediately. After the reaction he seemed to have shifted more of the responsibility of managing his allergy into his own court.

The therapist assured me that Stephen did not have obsessive-compulsive disorder and that his response was normal for this encounter with a life and death situation. She told us that we needed to help him learn to cope with the anxiety and stress that living with an allergy causes.

At home we focused on helping Stephen express his feelings in appropriate ways without letting him control the environment unreasonably. Although the plans for his safety were already comprehensive and very limiting, he wanted to go way beyond this in an attempt to make the world he lived in safer.

We talked about the many risks we all take every day, such as riding a bike, or driving a car and noted that we use reasonable precautions (wearing a helmet, using seat belts), and that by carrying epinephrine (adrenaline) and consistently following a food allergy management programme, we should be able to live as normally as possible.

When Stephen was too fearful to live normally, the rest of us stayed the course with the original plan for his safety and reassured him that he could be safe without adding layers to it. When he wanted to wash his hands at every turn, we let him. However, when he asked us to do the same, we politely refused if the situation did not warrant it.

We continue to participate in activities we knew could be accomplished safely, such as visits to the theatres, parks and museums, even though he was not entirely comfortable.

He used a ‘perceived anxiety scale’ to let us know how anxious he was feeling on a scale from 1 to 10. When he was uncomfortable, we asked that he share his feelings of frustration and anger openly and respectfully and we did our best not to personalise them.

Eventually he began to accept risk as a part of life. He is now doing well but it took consistency, patience, understanding and constant reassurance for him to feel safe again.

Our allergist’s jingle is ‘Educate, Equip and Enjoy’. Applying the three Es to both the physical and emotional aspects of food allergy is essential if one is to live successfully with it.

Courtesy of FAAN -

First published in 2006

If you found this article interesting, you will find many more articles on anaphylaxis here, and reports of research into anaphylaxis here.
You can also find articles on peanut and tree-nut allergy here, cow's milk allergies here, egg allergy here, histamine intolerance hereand articles on a wide range of other allergic and intolerance reactions to a wide range of other foods here.

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