Nut allergy sufferers face prejudice

A qualitative study of families of a child with a nut allergy

From Chronic Illness

Parents of nut-allergy sufferers face hostility and scepticism in trying to find safe environments for their children. Researchers in this study found that parents are routinely made to feel by friends and even family that their child’s nut allergy is a ‘frivolous and self indulgent fad invented and maintained by attention-seeking people.’ The research revealed how found that children suffering from potentially deadly nut allergies often struggle with negative attitudes and unhelpful food labelling. Families were interviewed about the techniques and strategies they use to cope in various situations. Nut allergy was a source of ongoing anxiety for families, who can find themselves socially isolated and excluded. The findings point to a need to raise awareness of the dangers associated with nut allergy and also calls for improvement in food production and labelling to help families and children maintain a safe environment and reduce stress and difficulties



Objectives: The aim of this study was to explore, using qualitative methods, the experiences of children and their parents living with nut allergy.

Methods: Children with a confirmed diagnosis of peanut allergy were identified from a database of patients maintained at an allergy clinic at a large teaching hospital. Interviews with 26 families were conducted involving 11 children, 25 mothers and 12 fathers.

Results: The diagnosis of nut allergy signalled a critical transition—or biographical disruption—in the life of the family. Parents took on the role of ‘alert assistant’ and sought to create ‘safe places’ where nuts were not permitted, but often struggled when outside the home environment. The option of ‘passing as normal’, often used by people with a chronic illness to avoid stigma, was not available to them. Consequently, parents often reported being treated as faddy, demanding, and neurotic, and children suffered from teasing and exclusion. The social consequences of nut allergy were worsened by poor labelling and control of foods and products containing nuts.

Discussion: In many ways, nut allergy may be considered a form of disability, because it imposes social barriers on participating fully in society.

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Article details
Pitchforth, E., Weaver, S., Willars, J., Wawrzkowicz, E., Luyt, D., & Dixon-Woods, M. (2011). A qualitative study of families of a child with a nut allergy Chronic Illness DOI: 10.1177/1742395311411591

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