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How do allergies affect a child's quality of life?

Allergies can make some people itch. Others get runny nose. Some feel stuffed up and get a headache. Severe allergies can trigger wheezing making it hard to breath. When kids don't feel well they may respond by not being as happy or cooperative. They may exhibit stress with poor behavior or even by being withdrawn.

Dr. Lawrence T. Chiaramonte, MD
Allergist & Immunologist

There is a growing bank of evidence of how child allergies can affect family relationships. Dr. Murray Pushpin at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and later at Denver's Children's Asthma Hospital observed a telling phenomenon. When hospitalized under optimal conditions, some children improved quickly—what are called "rapid remitters"—only to start wheezing and coughing the minute Mom came to visit. Another study showed that some patients remitted rapidly when the parents took a vacation and the kids stayed at home, supervised by medical personnel. Pushpin coined the word "parentectomy" to describe this inverse link between the child's health and the parent's presence.

We now recognize that families are complex in their relationships. In a family, the "patient" is not the only one who is affected by the illness. Each member of the family plays a role, although the patient is the "star." Thus the basis for the field of family therapy, in which the entire family is treated. Today, with the multiple models for the family unit, a more apt term might be household therapy.

The central theme is that without therapy, other family members function as enablers. By helping the ill person deal with the chronic illness, the others eventually come to define their existence and derive purpose in life from their supporting roles to the patient-star. This is the nature of that well-known phenomenon, codependency.

Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

More About this Book

Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

Asthma and allergies are at epidemic proportions. It doesn't have to be that way. Two experienced pediatric allergists tell everything a conscientious parent needs to know about these conditions,...
Dr. Paul M. Ehrlich, MD
Allergist & Immunologist

Most allergies aren't life-threatening, although food and insect allergies and asthma can be. But they do take a toll on the quality of life—particularly heartbreaking in a child. How can a kid play ball when grass reduces him or her to sneezing, itching and wheezing? Frequent absences from school can set the child back academically and socially.

Very young allergy patients occasionally come to us in a fairly anxious state. This is not only because they may be suffering considerable discomfort, but also because their moods are colored by those of their parents, who may be suffering feelings of guilt, anxiety and helplessness. A toddler with bad eczema has not only been itching like crazy, but his parents have been obsessing about the rash, and the pediatrician has been trying every remedy under the sun.

Once that child arrives in our office, he has very likely built up some real baggage of his own. He sits there listening to his mother obsess about his misery and that of everyone else at home. He feels resentment from his siblings for attracting so much attention. He feels guilty for causing trouble and feels scared that he will never get better. In that fraught atmosphere, the doctor must not only gain the child's confidence, but look in his ears, listen to his chest and even give him shots.

Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

More About this Book

Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

Asthma and allergies are at epidemic proportions. It doesn't have to be that way. Two experienced pediatric allergists tell everything a conscientious parent needs to know about these conditions,...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.