When someone mentions the word “allergies”, it’s not uncommon to immediately think of their physical side effects – runny noses, itchy eyes, hives, and more. But the effects of allergies go beyond just the physical. For many young people, allergies can have a significant emotional impact as they affect their lifestyle and capabilities.
That is why paediatricians are not solely responsible for treating the physical symptoms of allergies in young patients. Rather, they must also take the time to empathise with and address the emotional well-being of their charges. This blog post will serve as a guide to the emotional impact of allergies on children from the perspective of paediatricians.
The complex relationship between allergies and emotions
In order to provide accurate and empathetic care, paediatricians must go beyond physical boundaries when it comes to children with allergies. There is a range of emotions many young patients may be feeling as they come to terms with the limits imposed by allergies, and understanding this complex relationship is crucial for paediatricians to provide holistic care.
- Frustration and irritability. One of the most common emotions experienced by children with allergies is discomfort and frustration, spurred on by their persistent symptoms or need for lifestyle restrictions. The constant deluge of symptoms like coughing or itching can lead to irritability and difficulty concentrating, affecting their daily activities and school performance.
- Isolation. It is not unusual for allergies to force children to remove themselves from specific scenarios, especially those in social settings. They may avoid or need to steer clear of certain environments to prevent an allergic reaction, including enjoyable activities like outside play or birthday parties. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and social anxiety.
- Embarrassment. For many, allergic reactions can be visible. While some symptoms are not severe in their appearance, others can lead to a sense of embarrassment as it brings unwanted attention. Teasing from peers about unavoidable reactions like a runny nose, swollen eyes, or hives can also erode a child’s self-esteem.
- Anxiety. The unpredictability of some allergic reactions can lead some children to develop a sense of constant vigilance. Especially when a seemingly safe environment suddenly becomes a source of allergens. Children with allergies may consistently worry about accidental exposure and its potential consequences, leading to an overwhelming sense of anxiety.
- Depression. The emotional toll of living with and managing allergies can be exhausting for many children. The weight of feeling helpless or isolated due to allergies may lead them to struggle with persistent sadness and low self-worth. Over time, these emotions have the potential to lead to depression in children, which can be difficult to face and overcome with the persistence of their allergies.
The importance of paediatricians’ role
Now that we know what emotional impacts allergies have on children, it is time to discover what role paediatricians play in addressing these feelings. With hard work and compassion, many paediatricians can make a significant difference in the emotional well-being of their young patients.
- Providing a supportive environment. The first step to helping a child get over the negative emotions they feel towards their allergies is creating a welcoming environment. By creating a space in the clinic where they do not feel judged and can trust the adult in charge, young patients are more likely to express their emotional experiences related to allergies. This foundation will help pave the way towards helping children healthily process their feelings and come to terms with their allergies.
- Educating patients and parents. Education is the best way to allow parents and patients alike to feel in control of the circumstances of an allergen. Paediatricians are in the perfect position to educate both parties about allergies, including triggers, symptoms, and management strategies. This education could be the key factor determining accurate care and treatment. For example, knowing what a cow’s milk allergy is in comparison to lactose intolerance can help make a child’s life more comfortable and easier to manage. You can understand the key differences here and learn more about the importance of accurate allergen diagnosis. Then, in time, confidence will come as patients and parents fully comprehend just what they need to face.
- Identifying emotional signs. Paediatricians should be vigilant in identifying signs of emotional distress in children with allergies to address the underlying issue as soon as possible. By intervening early, paediatricians can prevent prolonged emotional discomfort or instances of social isolation. One of the key means of identifying emotional distress is looking for abrupt changes in behaviour, academic performance, or social interactions.
- Encouraging communication. Communication is key between all parties involved in allergy management: the child, their parents, and the healthcare provider. During these discussions, it’s crucial that children should feel free to express their feelings and concerns about allergies. This provides them with a sense of autonomy and allows them to take both physical and emotional control over their life with allergies.
- Supporting mental health. In cases where allergies are significantly affecting a child’s emotional well-being, paediatricians should be the ones to recommend mental health support. With their support, a child is more likely to get the treatment they need, whether that’s therapy or counseling to address anxiety, depression, or social isolation.
- Empowering children with allergies. For paediatricians, clinical services are not where their care ends. Emotional support for children is just as crucial, which is why empowerment is a necessary treatment option for those managing allergies. Empowering children will provide them with the skill set to deal with their own emotions and face life without feeling like their allergies are holding them back.
- Self-management skills. While a parent or caregiver may be required to take full responsibility for managing an infant’s allergies at home, older children can be taught a measure of responsibility over time. Teaching children age-appropriate self-management skills is a great way for paediatricians to build the foundations of empowerment. Crucial skills to teach include knowing how to use allergy medications, recognising allergen triggers, and when to seek help, among others.
Allergy action plans
Working alongside a child and their family to come up with an everyday allergy action plan can provide a sense of control and preparedness. This plan should include what environmental or man-made factors to keep an eye out for, who to contact for help, and steps to take in case of an allergic reaction.
- Peer education. Education about an allergy should not stop at the affected child and their family. Providing education to a child’s peers can promote a greater sense of understanding and nourish a safe environment. Paediatricians have the resources and knowledge to facilitate this, which should always be offered to a child in need.
- Allergen avoidance strategies. Beyond an allergy action plan, it is also important for a paediatrician to develop strategies with a child and their parents to avoid allergens. This generally revolves around making necessary modifications at their most commonly visited environments, such as their home or school.
- Positive reinforcement. While it may seem like a simple strategy, acknowledging and celebrating small victories is important to a child’s sense of empowerment. Paediatricians should take the time to praise children for taking control of their allergies and emotions and achieving milestones in self-management.
The need for empathy and understanding
It is evident that the fundamental ideals that should drive attempts to address the emotional impact of allergies in children are empathy and understanding. Paediatricians, parents, teachers, and peers alike should all acknowledge the emotional toll allergies can take on a child’s well-being. By acknowledging its presence, a child’s emotions can feel validated, making them in turn feel less alone. This acknowledgement should also come with patience and a willingness to provide support at any challenging moment.
Allergies have a more profound impact on children than we might realize. The emotional impact of managing allergies in children means that paediatricians are not just healthcare providers; they are also emotional support systems for young patients dealing with allergies. By creating an open, empathetic, and supportive environment, paediatricians can help children and their families navigate the emotional challenges of allergies, empowering them to lead healthier, happier lives.
David Radar, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.