Anaphylaxis through the eyes of the food allergic child

New research has shown that children who have had food-induced anaphylaxis may benefit from talking about the risks within their school environment. The research indicates that it is the perception of the threats to children in their school environments, particularly the high school/ secondary school where there is less parental involvement and more unregulated activity, which is most worrisome for them.

Due to the limited sample size of the study, it is considered exploratory by its authors: Nancy Fenton of McMaster University, Susan J. Elliott of the University of Waterloo, Lisa Cicutto of the University of Toronto, Ann E. Clarke of McGill University, Laurie Harada of Anaphylaxis Canada, and Elizabeth McPhee of the Community Services Agency in Hamilton, Ontario.

The study, which incorporated a child-centered analytical framework, involved ten children aged eight to 12, and ten teenagers, all of whom carry an injectable form of adrenalin in case they begin to react to a food allergen. The five themes discussed were:

  1. social and environmental barriers to safety,
  2. coping strategies,
  3. emotional burden of responsibility,
  4. balance of responsibility (transitions),
  5. redefining “normal”

Both groups identified environmental and social barriers that increased their sense of isolation, exclusion or being teased. Close friends provided key support, but the greatest danger proved to be misinformed or uninformed educators and others.

Young children rely on adults and teachers, but teenagers often fend for themselves by avoiding risky foods, educating others, working out food labels and quickly leaving unsafe places. Some developed such behaviours as constant handwashing, or not eating until an adult was present who could drive them to hospital in the event of a reaction. One successful teen strategy was redefining what was ‘normal’.

The lead authors reported that the study provided useful insights into finding more effective ways of informing educational and interventional efforts in responding to risk in schools. Results found that “child-centered” techniques empowered children in a process that is meaningful and relevant to their lives.

Source: Society for Risk Analysis

First published in January 2011


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