The Impact of Living With Food Allergies

The costs of food allergies are immense. This is mainly because these allergies can change so many parts of someone’s life. Meal preparation, attending social events, school field trips, food costs, and emotional health may all be affected.

Social impact

Staying safe with food allergies often means completely avoiding that food. It also requires being prepared for an emergency reaction. For children with food allergies, this can put the parents in a tough spot.

You may be able to keep your home allergen-free, but when you go out into the world, it is a different story. There is no way to be sure a friends’ house or the school your child attends is completely free of that food. This may lead to over-protectiveness and anxiety, which the child may sense.1

Sometimes, parents limit their child’s attendance at birthday parties and other gatherings due to a fear of being exposed to allergenic foods. Even activities that only involve the family can become stressful, like going out for a meal or traveling. This leads to more anxiety and fewer social activities.1

Social support plays an important role in caregivers' mental health. Parents of children with food allergies who have social support report better well-being. They also adjust better to their child’s food allergies than those without support.1

Economic costs

Food allergies, especially those that are severe, can have a major financial impact on parents or caregivers. Meal prep is often more involved and time-consuming, and buying allergen-free food can be more expensive.2

One study found households with a food allergy spend $3,339 on things not covered by insurance. That same study found opportunity costs of nearly $5,000 per household due to lost wages, decreased productivity, and increased time on household chores.3

Yearly medical costs for children because of food allergies can total more than $700 per child. Out-of-pocket costs like special food or changes in childcare for children with food allergies can be nearly $1,000 per child.4

About 44 percent of parents who have children with severe food allergies leave their career or change jobs to better care for their child. This, of course, can have financial consequences.2

Other costs include specialist visits, allergy testing, epinephrine auto-injector pens, and emergency visits.

Emotional impact

Children with food allergies may start to see themselves as "different," with the "special" diets and restrictions. They may notice other people see them differently and start to feel badly about themselves or their life.1

Isolation and feelings of missing out may lead to:1,5

  • Higher levels of depression
  • Social stress
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Social anxiety

Bullying or teasing about food allergies is also common for children in school.1,5

One study found about 1 in 4 children with food allergies had been teased or bullied at school. Of those children, nearly 9 in 10 reported multiple episodes. Most of the bullying was done by other children. However, 1 in 5 times, an adult at school bullied, teased, or harassed the child. Events included being touched with an allergen, having it thrown or waved near them, or their food being deliberately contaminated.5

All this can worsen the emotional impact of food allergies.1

Caregivers of those with food allergies also have high levels of fear, anxiety, and worry:2

  • 75 percent of parents say food allergies cause fear and worry
  • 82 percent of parents say they think about food allergies all the time
  • Nearly 60 percent feel like they cannot let their guard down about food allergies

This constant worry and fear can have negative effects on emotional health and coping skills for parents and caregivers.

Things to think about

It is important to model good coping skills if you are the parent of a child with food allergies. Managing your fear and stress can help reduce their fear and stress. Try to approach food allergies in a calm way, and focus on safety without being overprotective.1

Talk with your child’s allergist about local support groups that can help provide extra ideas and support.

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Written by: Jaime R. Herndon | Last Reviewed: March 2022