Parents of children with food allergies face significant worry, severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress â€“ according to new research from the University of East Anglia.
Between six and eight per cent of children suffer a food allergy â€“ with eggs, milk, and peanuts being the most common causes. They can cause vomiting, cramps, hives, swelling, eczema, breathing problems and in severe cases anaphylactic shock, which can lead to hospitalisation or death.
A new study published today finds that more than 80 per cent of parents face â€˜significant worryâ€™ about their childâ€™s food allergy, while 42 per cent met the clinical cut-off for post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and 39 per cent reported moderate to extremely severe anxiety.
Parents whose children have had to have an adrenaline auto-injector (for example an Epipen) administered were seven times more likely to experience PTSS.
Judith Young, from UEAâ€™s Norwich Medical School and Addenbrookeâ€™s Hospital, noticed in her work as an Honorary Consultant Clinical Psychologist that parents were describing psychological distress related to their childâ€™s allergy, but that there was little research into this.
Dr Kate Roberts carried out the study as part of her doctoral thesis at UEA, in collaboration with Judith Young, Dr Alex Brightwell from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Prof Richard Meiser-Stedman, from UEAâ€™s Norwich Medical School.
Dr Roberts said: â€œCaring for a child with a food allergy can be really challenging â€“ not least because they can be exposed to the foods they are allergic to, even with very careful management.
â€œWe wanted to see how the parents of children with food allergies were affected by anxiety, worry and PTSS. And we also evaluated whether the level of anxiety and stress experienced was linked to factors such as the severity of the childâ€™s allergy.â€
A total of 105 parents of children with medically diagnosed food allergies completed online questionnaires about their experiences.
Around half of the children had been rushed to hospital at least once because of an allergic reaction.
As well as considering the level of the childâ€™s allergy, the team also looked at the parentsâ€™ intolerance of uncertainty â€“ how they manage unforeseen events, like the fact that they cannot completely control their childâ€™s exposure to food theyâ€™re allergic to.
They also assessed the parentsâ€™ â€˜self efficacyâ€™ â€“ their confidence in allergy management.
Dr Roberts, who now works at Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Kingâ€™s Lynn, said: â€œWe found that a large proportion of the parents – 81 per cent – reported clinically significant worry and 42 per cent reported significant trauma symptoms related to their childâ€™s food allergy.
â€œParents who reported their child to have had an adrenaline auto-injector (AAI) administered, were around seven times more likely to report clinically significant PTSS.
â€œGreater intolerance of uncertainty and lower food allergy self-efficacy were associated with poorer psychological outcomes. But we found mixed results for the relationship between allergy severity and parent mental health, with PTSS observed in parents of children with both life-threatening and milder allergies.
â€œThis really highlights the need for greater awareness about the mental health problems that parents of children with food allergies may be experiencing.
â€œKnowing which factors could predict different psychological outcomes is important because it could help identify those parents who may be struggling with their mental health and help them overcome some of the problems they may be experiencing,â€ she added.
The research was led by UEA in collaboration with Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
â€˜Parental Anxiety and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Pediatric Food Allergyâ€™ is published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology on March 11, 2021.