Teenagers, food allergy and anaphylaxis
What do you do? You are dancing with the glamourous boy - or girl - at the party who you have been fancying all evening - and you know that sometime soon the dance may develop into a kiss but... You also know that if they have been eating peanuts and there is even a speck of peanut dust left on their lips that could cause you have a dramatic food allergic reaction and to go into a potentially fatal anaphylactic shock. By Jennifer Percival.
Do you risk breaking the mood by asking them if they have eaten
any peanuts - or do you keep quiet and maybe risk your own life
instead? To an anxious parent the answer seems obvious - to a teenager
it may not.
Discovering your child has a potentially life-threatening food allergy can be very frightening for a parent. So much so that many need to control all aspects of their children's lives. That is, until the day they become old enough to go out with their peers. Letting your child be responsible for their own food choices can be extremely difficult for parents and frustrating for the child who may feel over-protected. Precautions save lives – but how do you get your ‘rebellious’ teenager to take care?
The Anaphylaxis Campaign aims to help people understand and manage allergy. The majority of fatalities occur in people who are either unaware of their risk or have not been taught the life-saving procedures. Knowing that the transition to adulthood is hard for allergic teenagers, the Campaign runs a series of workshops for 11-20 year olds to help them assess risk and manage it safely.
One thing we have found essential is to provide a demonstration of how the automatic adrenaline injector works. Many participants admit to never having seen the needle and of being afraid of being hurt should they need adrenaline. In addition to checking their knowledge and technique, they are reassured that no harm will come to them if adrenaline is given unnecessarily. We explain that the only dangerous thing is not carrying your adrenaline with you at all times.
Other topics covered include:
Participants are encouraged to share good and bad experiences. They are asked to bring their emergency equipment with them. We ask them to take it out and show everyone how they label and store it. This exercise helps participants get practical tips from each other. We encourage them to tell us how they handle school situations.
We ask children for any frustrating situations they've experienced. Examples include: being refused a school trip, not being invited to a friend's birthday party or having a parent watch them all the time.
The morning concentrates on the facts, avoiding the dangers and sharing of experiences. In the afternoon, we use role play to help them learn assertive responses. These exercises give the teenagers a chance to practise handling obstacles and saying what they want and how they will manage.
Each group demonstrates their chosen scenario, and at the end the other participants say what they found useful. These sessions prove to be extremely popular. They give participants the chance to share their past negative experiences and learn ways to overcome the barriers that they've faced.
At the end of the day, the ‘'risks' sheets are returned and we ask if anyone would like to change anything. The trainers can see which risks they are now more prepared to take seriously and how they plan to integrate safe protocols and systems into their everyday lives. Evaluation at the end of the day shows the participants benefited most from hearing stories from peers in the same situation as themselves. Many of them had never met another allergic person and found the opportunity to network invaluable.
What the teenagers said was the most useful thing they had learnt
and how they rated the day:
If you, or your child, would like to know more about or attend one of these workshops please contact Jane Bentley, The Anaphylaxis Campaign, PO Box 275, Farnborough, Hants, GU14 6SX. Tel. 01252 373793 www.anaphylaxis.org.uk
First published in 2004