A few weeks ago I received an email from a clinical psychologist in Australia who had been reading Polly James’ articles on the Foods Matter site about anxiety and anaphylaxis – Managing Anxiety following anaphylaxis and Helping children to face up to food allergy.
She was hoping to get in touch with Polly because her daughter is anaphylactic to bees and other unidentified insects and is struggling with anxiety. We are all so focused on food allergy that we forget that there are other allergens out there which have nothing to do with food but which are equally dangerous – and actually even less within our ability to control.
‘I am hoping you might be able to direct me to some peer reviewed information regarding anaphylaxis and trauma. I am a clinical psychologist and one of my daughters’, who is 10 years old, is anaphylactic to bees and an unidentified insect. While I do at times worry about her, I don’t let it get in the way of family activity, but this does require sometimes providing her with a great deal of reassurance in certain situations.
My problem is that the school she attends, while they understand the need to have an epi pen within close proximity, they do not understand the level of fear my daughter has to manage when outside and do not provide any reassurance. In fact, they are unaware of her experiencing fear.
There is no way to control the environment for insect allergy other than to keep the child inside which isn’t realistic in life. My child has experienced anaphylaxis wearing long pants and shoes, which is what little prevention we can help our insect sensitive children with.
She has been asked to sit directly onto grass, she has been left on outdoor excursions without anyone supervising her. When she tells me about these she is clearly extremely frightened, and when I raise these events with the teacher they are minimised.
Recently on school grounds, first thing, she requested anti-histamine. But her medical bag had run out and the teacher only chose to inform me at the end of the day. This was so unnecessary as I would have left work to bring it to her. But even worse, they could have provided her with the antihistamine as they have anti histamine in their first aid kit on site. My daughter refused to attend school the next day.
She also recently refused to attend school camp held in the bush. I tried very hard to help her attend, her and I visited the camp site together prior. Unfortunately, there were an usual amount of bees there and three flew in her face to the extent that she physically had to remove herself. The teacher continually refers to me as needing reassurance, saying it is a big step up for me, when in fact it is my daughter who needs to feel safe and needs to feel that the adults who have a duty of care over her are aware of this.
My daughter does not have PTSD but she does have some anxiety symptoms, exacerbated by the teachers’ lack of awareness.
Can you direct me to any helpful literature please? I know you specialise in food allergies not insect allergies, and I have read your info on the psychological impacts but it seems to place the emphasis on the parents not transferring anxiety to the child. There is a great fear of dread and dying that comes with anaphylaxis as my daughter and many of my adult friends with the condition have confirmed. My daughter daily participates in outdoor activities, but it is with the knowledge that there is an adult there who is aware and can hold the fear.
We live in Australia, we have lots of insects and lots of our life is outdoors!’
If anyone has any comments – or any suggestions – for our correspondent, please post them in the comments box.
You may also be interested too know that we are working on a book on Living with Anaphylaxis with Ruth of What Allergy?. Apart from many practical suggestions as how best to live with anaphylaxis, it will have an in depth section on the psychological impact of the condition.
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