Q: My five-year-old son has severe food allergies and I’m constantly anxious about him coming into contact with food he’s allergic to. Is it normal to be this frightened for him all the time, and is there anything I can do about it – it’s controlling my life?
A: Clinical psychologist Dr Kate Roberts, who works at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn and has just led a study into the psychological impact for parents of children with food allergy, says: “You are certainly not alone: managing a child with food allergies can be really challenging, and it’s normal that you might feel worried or anxious at times.
“We don’t yet know quite how many parents of children with food allergies struggle with anxiety, but in our recent survey of 105 parents, 81% reported clinically significant worry, 42% met the clinical cut-off for PTSS (post-traumatic stress syndrome), and 39% reported moderate to extremely severe anxiety.
“While it’s normal to feel anxious, if you’re feeling like this a lot of the time, and especially as you mention this is controlling your life, it could be helpful to reach out for more support.
“I’d encourage you to speak to your GP to find out what support for anxiety is available locally. Psychological support might include approaches like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is often recommended for anxiety. This could allow you space to think about and understand your fears, and to use this to find ways to work towards helping your anxiety while managing your son’s allergy.
“If you have any questions about managing your child’s allergy, speak to a professional involved in your child’s care (e.g. GP, paediatrician, or allergy clinic). However, our research tells us that many parents feel very anxious even when they feel confident in knowing how to manage their child’s allergy.
“Finally, some parents may find it helpful to speak to other parents or people who are living with allergies themselves.