Readers’ Forum: Food allergies and their effect on mental health

353

At almost every birthday party, every church event, and every activity in between, I ignore the refreshments given to every other attendant and turn to my backpack, where I have a small variety of snacks. While everyone else has pizza or cookies, I enjoy some chips or fruit from a lunch bag. I have to carry my backpack everywhere I go, as it also contains my medicine. Having food allergies is rough. I am always on alert and always checking food labels. Every time I go to someone’s house, I have to ask about how everything was made, and I usually end up having to look through their fridge for something safe, which is always awkward even when they were the ones who told me I could.

Many people throughout the world share my experiences and have the same feelings of being left out of many activities. While food allergies can be very hard for people physically, with them having fewer options and less nourishing food, they can also have large mental and psychological effects. Everywhere we go, the possibility of food that could kill us remains. We can never trust anyone, because not many people understand how food allergies work, or how severe the consequences can be. Allergy replacements for many foods cost around 200% of the regular price, and restaurants are unreliable. All of these worries can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. It is also extremely difficult for people with food allergies to form good relationships with people because we don’t want to burden them with our needs. It is also hard to make good friends until after having a full seminar on how allergies work and how to not kill us, so meeting new people is frustrating. According to a study done by Rana Peniamina, over 65% of adults with food allergies share these stressors. While many people with food allergies most likely have a handle on their situation, we can all help them by learning about food allergies and easing the burden caused by them.

Food allergies are caused when the white blood cells mistakenly see a certain food as a threat instead of nourishment. The antibodies it sends release chemicals that cause different symptoms that people with food allergies experience. Some of the most common symptoms include hives, stomachaches, bloating, and itchiness. There are also some more complicated and life-threatening symptoms, the most common and well-known being anaphylaxis, which is where the throat and esophagus swell up until you can’t breathe. People with food allergies have to go through several different tests to figure out their allergies. It starts with a simple blood test, followed by a prick test, which involves an allergist injecting minuscule amounts of different allergens under the skin of the patient. If the spot gets inflamed and itchy, it’s a sign of an allergen. The patient can’t itch the spot in order to not interfere with the test. After comes the endoscopy, where the patient is put under anesthesia while doctors take pictures of the digestive tract using a tiny camera inserted through the mouth or nose. Other diseases have been found to be related to food allergies, such as eczema, asthma, and celiac disease.

College is one of the main ways that people meet each other and make friends. Most people have new roommates they live with, new classmates to study with, and other students who share similar interests. During this very eventful and social part of our lives, people with food allergies experience some of the most stressful situations in their lives. For many of them, their new roommates are not used to living with food allergies, and so every surface is contaminated. Budgets are low, and the available food options are limited and high in price. This is, for most of us, the first time we are responsible for keeping ourselves alive, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety for new college students. Jiabi Chen, who wrote a journal about the psychology of college students, discovered that those with food allergies had a significant increase in risk and levels of anxiety and depression.

Dating can also cause a lot of stress for people with food allergies. We have to disclose our allergies to any potential partner so that they are aware of what they could be getting themselves into. If we truly want to be with the person, we don’t want to burden them, but no matter what, they have to change their diet to fit ours in order for us to be safe at home. Finding someone who is willing to “put up with” our allergies is very stressful, especially when everyone around us is going on dates and finding their other half. According to a study done by Stephanie Hullmann, people with food allergies have more dating anxiety and fear or rejection and embarrassment. This gets even more complicated and stressful as you go deeper into the relationship with more physical acts like kissing. Since food particles can remain in your mouth for long periods of time without proper cleaning, until their partner removes the allergens from their diet, those with food allergies have to continue to be wary.

People with food allergies have many things that they have to worry about in their daily lives. In the past 20 years, the number of people with food allergies has doubled, with it currently being over 32 million. Although those with food allergies try their hardest to manage their problems with as little burden to those around them as possible, we can all help lessen their load. One main stressor that people with food allergies have is the fact that not many people know about their condition or what to do around them. Education systems can teach people about the intricacies and severity of food allergies and how we can best help those who suffer from food allergies. We can keep food areas clean and be understanding to those who need special assistance with food preparation. People with food allergies, including me, just want to be treated like everyone else, so next time someone tells you they have a food allergy, treat them like a human, not a burden.

Ethan Flint

Huntington Beach, California

Print Friendly, PDF & Email