Serious Allergies: Keeping Your Teen Safe
It can be challenging to have a food allergy as a teen. Some feel embarrassed to eat differently than their friends, or to ask for special meals, or to pass when everyone else is eating something they can't.
In one survey, teenagers with food allergies admitted that they sometimes take risks with their food, particularly when they were out with friends. That's rare, says pediatric allergist Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet, MD. "In my experience, kids with severe allergies tend to be very mature and cautious."
Where Eghrari-Sabet sees her teenage patients with food allergies getting into trouble, she says, is if they also have asthma. If they do, taking care of their asthma may help them avoid severe reactions to their allergy trigger foods.
Involve Your Teen
The teen years are a time of growing up. That includes taking care of their health. These simple strategies can help:
Manage asthma. This is especially important if your teen has serious allergies. Make sure your child takes her daily maintenance medication and gets regular checkups. Eghrari emphasizes that teenagers should not use a rescue inhaler in lieu of maintenance asthma medication. "Many teenagers use their rescue inhaler every day," she says. "They puff and puff on the inhaler, but this can make the situation worse. If your teen needs to use her rescue inhaler all the time, her asthma is out of control."
Talk about it. This isn't about having one big talk, but about having many talks that prepare your teen for being on her own. "It is important for parents to prepare kids to be independent," says pediatric allergist Anne Miranowski, MD. "Parents should teach kids how to read food labels, make smart decisions at grocery stores and restaurants, recognize symptoms, and when to call 911. It should be an ongoing educational process."
Empower your teen. Teach them what to do when you're not around. Brainstorm together about how to handle tricky situations and role-play different scenarios. For instance, help your teen create "chef cards" that explain his allergy, and encourage him to talk about it with waiters, chefs, and restaurant managers when you go out to eat.
Find a good allergist. This should be someone you and your teen trusts and feels comfortable with. Your teen should get regular checkups to manage allergies, update medications, and learn about what he or she needs to do for their own self-care.
Help your teen find peer support. A support group for people with food allergies can help you and your teen get connected to other people facing the same challenges. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) features a directory of support groups around the country. This organization can help you start your own group if there isn't one in your area. FARE also has an annual conference, which includes sessions for teenagers.
Model good judgment, not fear. "It's important to teach kids to be careful without instilling an inappropriate level of fear," Miranowski says. If you're careful but calm, your teen will have a good role model in how they can approach their allergy with wisdom instead of worry.