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How Food Allergies Can Affect Mental Health

How to recognize when food allergies are affecting your mental health—and what to do if they are.

A young woman speaks during a support group meeting for people who are living with with anxiety.

Updated on May 21, 2024

Food allergies refer to a group of conditions where exposure to certain foods or substances triggers an allergic reaction. Exposure typically refers to eating a trigger food. However, inhaling food particles during cooking may also cause an allergic reaction in some cases. Handling a trigger food and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth may also trigger an allergic reaction.

While many food allergies are identified during childhood, food allergies can begin at all ages, and adult-onset food allergies are not uncommon. The causes of food allergies are not fully understood, but they are believed to be the result of genetic and external factors that affect the immune system.

Food allergies and mental health

Anyone who has food allergies—or who knows someone with food allergies—knows that the condition can be a significant source of frustration and distress. The only proven treatment for food allergies is avoidance of trigger foods, and an accidental exposure has the potential to result in anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that causes difficulty breathing and shock.

This can be a lot to deal with, day to day—the fear of accidental exposures, the vigilance required to monitor food, the possibility of needing emergency medical treatment. Research has found that people living with food allergies and caregivers are at risk for anxiety, panic, depression, being bullied, fatigue, and an overall lower quality of life.

Food allergies can also impact relationships, limit social activities, and affect careers. Food is present at many social gatherings, including family holidays and work events. Travel and dining out can be complicated and stressful—most accidental exposures occur away from home. It’s essential to inform restaurant staff and anyone else preparing food about a food allergy, but it can also be uncomfortable to talk about your allergy when you are part of a group.

Taking care of mental health

It’s important to recognize the potential impact that food allergies can have on mental health, emotional health, and quality of life. Take time to check in with yourself. Here are some questions to consider:

  • How would you describe your overall quality of life?
  • How often do you experience anxious or worried thoughts?
  • How often do you experience low moods? How often do you feel sad, angry, defeated, irritable, restless, or frustrated?
  • How much time do you spend alone?
  • What does having food allergies prevent you from doing?
  • Aside from food allergies, how is your overall health?
  • Do you ever feel like a burden to others?
  • Have your sleep habits changed?
  • Do you have difficulty completing tasks or concentrating?
  • What has been difficult or challenging lately?

Mental health is an important topic to discuss with a healthcare provider—and something a healthcare provider can help with. Support groups, counseling, and working with a mental health professional can also be valuable tools to help you cope with the challenges of living with food allergies.

Controlling what you can control

One of the most difficult parts of living with any health condition is feeling like you are not in control. While there will always be some element of unpredictability with a condition like food allergies, there are many aspects that you do have control over. Be prepared for accidental exposures by having an emergency plan in place. Carry your epinephrine autoinjectors and check the expiration dates. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.

Also, new treatments for food allergies are becoming available. An immunotherapy for peanut allergies became available in 2020. A biologic therapy for multiple food allergies became available in 2024. These therapies cannot cure food allergies, but they can help reduce the severity of how the immune system responds to an allergen—better protecting and preparing the body in case of an accidental exposure.

Other therapies are under development and may become available in the near future. This may be another topic worth discussing with your healthcare provider.

Article sources open article sources

MedlinePlus. Food allergy.
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Elizabeth A. Secord. Food Allergies. Medscape. May 13, 2024.
Allergy & Asthma Network. What is Anaphylaxis?
Eric C. K. Lee, Brit Trogen, et al. The Natural History and Risk Factors for the Development of Food Allergies in Children and Adults. Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, 2024. Vol. 24, No. 3.
Claudia M. Lopez, Siva Naga S. Yarrarapu, and Magda D. Mendez. Food Allergies. StatPearls. July 24, 2023.
MedlinePlus. Anaphylaxis.
Laura Polloni and Antonella Muraro. Anxiety and food allergy: A review of the last two decades. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2020. Vol. 50, No. 4.
Charles Feng and Jea-Hyoun Kim. Beyond Avoidance: the Psychosocial Impact of Food Allergies. Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology, 2019. Vol. 57, No. 1.
Thomas B. Casale, Christopher Warren, et al. The mental health burden of food allergies: Insights from patients and their caregivers from the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) Patient Registry. World Allergy Organization Journal, 2024. Vol. 17, No. 4.
Alexandra F. Santos, Margitta Worm, et al. Living with food allergies: the experiences of adult patients and caregivers. Frontiers in Allergy, 2023. Vol. 4.
Harvard Health Publishing. Are you missing these signs of anxiety or depression?
National Institute of Mental Health. Tips for Talking With a Health Care Provider About Your Mental Health.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA approves first drug for treatment of peanut allergy for children. January 31, 2020.
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Food Allergy Research & Education. Food Allergy Treatment Landscape.

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