You've likely heard the term "oral food challenge" mentioned by your allergist or in online food allergy support groups. But if you haven't, here's a quick primer from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology on oral food challenges:
What is an oral food challenge?
An oral food challenge (OFC), or feeding test, is a medical procedure in which a food is eaten slowly, in gradually increasing amounts, under medical supervision, to accurately diagnose or rule out a true food allergy.
What are the reasons to perform an OFC?
OFCs are usually done when a careful medical history and allergy tests, such as skin and blood tests, are inconclusive. The OFC is a more definitive test because it will show whether the food ingested produces no symptoms or triggers a reaction.
Oral Food Challenge (OFC) Anxiety and Worry:
Given that during oral food challenges you are eating a food that you may potentially be allergic to or have previously been allergic to, it's no surprise that you may feel anxious and worried in anticipation of that appointment - many do. Our mind wants to keep us safe, so an oral food challenge can feel like a potential threat to our mind when we think about it. Therefore, it's normal and appropriate to experience anxiety about oral food challenges. However, it's important to remember that you don't need to interpret that anxiety to mean that the oral food challenge will result in the worst case scenario.
What Helps OFC Anxiety and Worry?
When you experience increased anticipatory anxiety - that is, anxiety about a future event, it can be helpful to prepare for the event in order to to increase readiness and decrease fear.
Here is a brief list of ways to prepare ahead of time for your or your child's oral food challenge:
Additional Resources and Tips to Help Manage OFC Anxiety
Be sure to listen to Episode 14 of Exploring Food Allergy Families called, "Tips for Managing Oral Food Challenge Anxiety & Worry". In this episode, fellow allergy-informed therapist Fawn McNeil-Haber, PhD and I discuss helpful strategies for navigating oral food challenges. We offer preparation tips and guidance on navigating anxiety and mindsets prior to and during the food challenge. Here are specific topics we explore in this episode:
You can listen via your favorite podcast app, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and iHeartRadio. Don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss future episodes!
ORAL FOOD CHALLENGE PREPARATION WORKSHEETS:
Download these Oral Food Challenge worksheets which help prepare before the appointment, offer helpful reminders for the day of, and prompts for processing after the food challenge. (There are separate worksheets for kids and teens/adults).
You can download these worksheets below or on the Therapeutic Worksheets page here on the Food Allergy Counselor website.
FAWN McNEIL-HABER'S RESOURCES ON ORAL FOOD CHALLENGES:
Hopefully reading this and checking out the podcast, worksheets and other resources offers you some reassurance that oral food challenge-related anxiety is normal and manageable. Don't hesitate to reach out and let me know if these tips have helped you or your patients, or to share tips of your own! And if you're looking for an allergy-informed therapist in your state (many of whom provide telehealth to residents of their state), visit the Food Allergy Counselor Directory.
You can connect with me on Twitter (@TherapistTamara and @FACounselor), Instagram (@TherapistTamara) and Facebook (@FoodAllergyCounselor and @TamaraHubbardLCPC).
Thanks for reading!
One of the most common questions I see being asked within the food allergy community is:
"How do I help my son or daughter with their food allergy anxiety or worry?"
The answer to that question isn't simplistic, as there are likely many factors contributing to the anxiety or worry. But at the core of the answer is the advice to help their child better understand the worry in order to develop strategies to help effectively manage it.
What exactly is worry?
The terms "anxiety", "worry", and "fear" are often used interchangeably. So do they mean the same thing? No, but they are definitely related.
Whereas anxiety typically stems from the uncertainty, unpredictability and unknown about future situations, worry is the thinking part of anxiety. It's what often leads our minds to dwelling on worst case scenarios, the "what ifs", or leads us into a thinking trap known as "catastrophizing".
Whether our worry is triggered by anxiety about the future or fear due to a threat in the here-and-now, it can lead us down the rabbit hole of thoughts. This may then trigger uncomfortable emotions and physical sensations, which often convinces us even more that our worried thoughts must be valid!
What helps to manage worrY?
There are a variety of therapeutic approaches to help people learn to manage or navigate life with their anxiety or worry. Whether through basic psychoeducation, or strategies based on approaches stemming from evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, or exposure therapy, the goals are typically to help people change negative thought patterns, learn relaxation or grounding skills, and change behaviors that lead to the distressing impacts or outcomes.
The Managing Food Allergy Worries Worksheet
The following 3-page therapeutic worksheet was created to help older kids, teens, and even adults begin to address their food allergy-related worries. The goal of the worksheet is to help you identify practical strategies that effectively help you break free from those worry traps. It encourages getting to know more about the thoughts that fuel the worry. It also guides you to notice how the worry makes you feel physically since anxiety and worry often bring on physical sensations that may even trick you into thinking you're having an allergic reaction.
You can download this 3-page therapeutic worksheet below
via Scribd or through the file download option.
[Disclaimer: This therapeutic activity is meant to help understand and manage worries, but is not meant to take the place of counseling. Please reach out to a licensed clinical mental healthcare provider if you feel that your anxiety or worry is impacting your life in a way that feels unmanageable on your own. You can locate an allergy-informed therapist in your state via the Food Allergy Counselor Directory.]
RELATED Helpful Resources:
Thanks for reading,
The latest podcast episode of Exploring Food Allergy Families was inspired by stories I've read about within food allergy support groups, experiences my clients (and I) have had, and of course, Brene Brown! You truly can't explore the topic of vulnerability without including what Brene's research has unveiled.
Vulnerability felt like an important topic to begin discussing because the truth is, we will all feel feelings of vulnerability throughout our lives. When we fall in love. When we put ourselves out there for others to see. And of course, when we navigate life with food allergies or other allergic conditions.
This 15-minute episode covers the following aspects of vulnerability:
You can find Episode 03 here. Missed the other episodes covering the intro to the podcast (4 mins), and what survey responses from 90 food allergy dads revealed (26 mins)?
Find them here via the podcast website, or find Exploring Food Allergy Families on your favorite podcast app!
Additionally, below is the "Take Home Challenge" handout associated with Episode 03, which can also be found in the "Exploring Food Allergy Families Podcast - Take Home Challenge" section of the Food Allergy Mental Health Resource page.
And while it may be tempting to just read the handout without listening to the episode, the additional context within the episode is extremely helpful as well!
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