- A survey study conducted by Allergy UK, a non-profit organization in the United Kingdom, found that negative perceptions impacted the mental health of people with allergies and their caretakers.
- Over one-third of respondents reported that people with allergies exaggerated their severity and lied about allergies to avoid foods.
- People with allergies reported minimizing their condition, fearing judgment, avoiding social interactions, and impaired work performance.
- Survey results highlighted the need for increased awareness of the mental health effects of misperceptions on people with allergies.
Allergies commonly affect people worldwide and are caused by an overactive immune response to substances like food, mold, pollen, or dust.
While most people may experience mild to moderate allergic symptoms, some can have severe and life threatening reactions, such as swelling of the throat, known as anaphylaxis.
In addition to the physical symptoms, some studies have shown that allergies may also impact one’s emotional well-being.
Another study in Taiwan found that allergic disease correlated with a 66% increased risk of psychiatric disorders.
To better understand the attitudes toward people with allergies and their psychological impact, Allergy UK, an advocacy group for people with allergies, conducted an online survey in June 2021.
The study findings have not been published yet but are on the Allergy UK Website.
The survey included 2,937 people with allergies and 1,085 people without allergies in the U.K. Researchers found that 60% of respondents reported having allergies, and 79% knew someone with an allergy.
The top five most common allergies reported were hay fever (37%), asthma (17%), eczema (13%), drug allergy (8%), and food allergy (8%).
Over one-third of respondents had negative perceptions about people with allergies, 37% of respondents reported that “people exaggerate the severity of their allergy,” and 35% felt “people fake their allergy to avoid certain foods.”
People with allergies reported various adverse effects on their mental health and quality of life, including:
- the need to minimize their allergies for fear of judgment by friends, family, or employers (52%)
- avoidance of social interactions (53%)
- impaired work performance (44%)
Parents of children with allergies also reported adverse psychological effects on their children, with 40% experiencing feelings of isolation due to teasing and bullying by others. In addition, 54% of parents reported feeling “very or extremely anxious” about their child experiencing an allergic reaction when dining out.
Carla Jones, CEO at Allergy UK, comments on the findings: “For many, the perception is that an allergy, like hay fever, is a minor and seasonal problem. However, this research […] has highlighted the impact that negative perceptions and misunderstandings have on our allergic community.”
Helping people living with allergies and their families adjust to the emotional stress psychologically is essential.
Dr. Jeanne Herzog, a lifespan psychologist, in the webinar, Managing the Emotional Impact of Living with a Food Allergy, states, “It’s easy for anxiety to go from a little bit to too much. After all, there are so many uncertainties when you’re living with food allergies, and some of the factors are difficult to control, and for parents, the responsibility of keeping their children safe can be quite heavy. [This] can fuel anxiety.”
She discusses the importance of developing an emotional safety plan to help avoid or mitigate the impact of stress.
Dr. Herzog states, “One study found that kids saw more danger in the fact that other people don’t care than in the allergen itself. They believe they can protect themselves from the allergen, but they’re not so sure they can protect themselves from others who don’t care about food allergies.”
Bringing awareness through education may also help change attitudes surrounding allergies, resulting in better care standards and improving the quality of life for people with allergies.
Dr. Herzog states, “We need a knowledgeable and caring village, and we’re working on that.”