Coping with Social Isolation and Loneliness

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board

More than 50 million people in the United States live with some sort of allergy, and this may affect their lives in a variety of ways. Social isolation is common with some types of allergies, especially food and latex. It is only natural to want to do everything you can to avoid something that makes you sick or may even be life-threatening.1

Unfortunately, this fear sometimes gets in the way of enjoying a social life with friends and loved ones. Plus, living in a constant state of vigilance is exhausting. Some signs that you or a loved one may need help coping with your allergies include:2

  • You realize your anxiety about allergen exposure is limiting your daily life
  • You are avoiding activities with friends and family
  • You or a loved one had an anaphylactic reaction and you cannot stop worrying about it happening again
  • Your or your child are showing signs of repetitive label reading, refusing to eat foods outside the home, or not wanting to touch surfaces or toys

Steps to avoid social isolation

It is important to remember that spending time with others is good for our bodies and minds, and is a great mood booster. Social isolation can lead to loneliness, lower immunity, depression, poor sleep, and many other health issues like worse heart function.3

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You can start by talking with your friends or loved ones about your allergy. People can be afraid of what they do not understand. The more informed they are, the better they can help you with any anxiety you may have about being exposed to your allergens. Their knowledge about treating an allergic reaction can also help you feel more peace of mind in social settings.

Educating those closest to you allows them to then take steps to keep you healthy. Examples include:3-5

  • Replacing rubber products with latex-free ones
  • Substituting peanuts, wheat, or milk in recipes if you are allergic
  • Holding activities indoors when the pollen count is high
  • Damp mopping the house before you visit
  • Washing their hands after petting a cat or dog and before touching you
  • Teaching them what to do if you show signs of anaphylaxis

Find the right therapist or dietitian

A therapist can help you take steps to reduce your isolation and be a sounding board for your concerns. A dietitian can help you build strategies to avoid problem foods and substitute them with other nutritious foods.

However, it can be hard to find a counselor or dietitian who takes your insurance, or who specializes in helping people with allergies. Some places to look for recommendations include:2

Some questions to ask before scheduling an appointment include:

  • Do you have experience working with people with chronic health conditions and allergies in particular?
  • Do you have experience helping people with anxiety?
  • What ages do you specialize in?
  • Do you specialize in a particular type of treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or biofeedback?

Things to think about

If you are avoiding social activities because of your allergies, your allergist may be able to help. They can help address concerns about exposure to your allergen and help you identify the risk in different situations. Your treatment plan may need to change to allow you to operate in the world with more comfort and less anxiety. They also may refer you to a therapist who specializes in working with people with allergies.

Finding a support group, either online or in-person, may be helpful as well. Others living with an allergy can share their tips to safely handle social events. Finding kindred spirits who know what it is like to live with an allergy can lessen your feelings of being different or isolated.