Impact of Food Allergy on Caregivers’ Quality of Life

As food allergy families know all too well, the disease often has a negative impact on quality-of-life for the affected child, parents and siblings. To learn more about parents’ quality-of-life, researchers at the University of Michigan Food Allergy Center in Ann Arbor asked 305 caregivers of children with food allergies to complete a questionnaire. All of the children had peanut, tree nut, milk or egg allergies, the most common food allergies seen in the practice. Their median age was 6.6 years, and the median age at the child’s most severe reaction was 20 months.

The results of the study were published in the July 2014 issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). The researchers noted that the overall quality-of-life score was “fairly good.” The caregivers’ greatest concerns were dining out, trusting others, others not appreciating the seriousness of food allergy, and the child’s attendance at school or camp. The areas of lowest concern were nutrition, leaving the home, additional time needed to prepare for mealtime, and ensuring a normal upbringing.

Interestingly, although peanuts and tree nuts are most likely to be associated with severe reactions, parents of children with milk and egg allergies reported greater stress and anxiety. In a press release distributed by ACAAI, the lead author, Laura Howe, MD, noted that “because eggs and milk are everywhere, and used to prepare so many dishes, caregivers with children allergic to those two ingredients feel more worried and anxious.”

Parents who had a clear understanding of the severity of their child’s reaction had better quality-of-life scores. However, only 64 percent accurately perceived severity, while 15 percent over-perceived their child’s reaction and 19 percent under-perceived it. Caregivers were highly concerned about their ability to help if their child had a reaction, as well as the ability of others to understand the seriousness of their child’s food allergy.

In addition to inaccurate perception, factors that contributed to a lower quality-of-life were lower income, having eczema as well as a food allergy, multiple food allergies, older age at the onset of the first reaction, and anaphylaxis.

“Further research is needed to explore what might contribute to poor caregiver quality-of-life,” the authors conclude. By identifying the factors that are most likely to cause stress and anxiety, such studies can help physicians, mental health experts and educators to develop effective tools that enable families to live well with food allergies.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of FARE’s Food Allergy News. Read more of the newsletter here.