A Qualitative Study of Families of a Child with a Nut Allergy

Published in: Chronic Illness, v. 7, no. 4, 2011, p. 255-266

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2011

by Emma Pitchforth, Simon Weaver, Janet Willars, Emilia Wawrzkowicz, David Luyt, Mary Dixon-Woods

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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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