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Food Allergies

Kissing and Allergic Teens

For Lisa, this is easy. “I tell people whenever I make new friends,” says the extroverted teenager. “I just put it out there.” In Grade 9, for instance, Lisa met a boy from a nearby city, during a choir exchange. On the first day they were sitting with friends in the school cafeteria and Lisa was eating a rhubarb pie.

“We were joking about it and it just came up. I said there aren’t many desserts that I can eat and I launched into my spiel.”

Then Lisa grew closer to Michael. One day he asked Lisa a question: If you smell nuts, would you have a reaction? Lisa leapt at the opportunity: “The allergen has to get into my body, either through food or by kissing someone.” Not long after, Michael asked Lisa out. She asked if he remembered what she had said about her allergies. “No kissing if I’ve eaten bad stuff, so I won’t,” he replied.

They kissed that night, and again over the next couple of months. Michael wouldn’t eat nuts either the day he was to see Lisa or the day before. He didn’t take any chances.

“He’d brush his teeth five times a day, and five times the day before,” she says. The relationship ended after a couple of months, but Lisa feels optimistic about her dating life: “I can talk to anybody,” she says. “If I don’t feel comfortable, I won’t do anything, and I have the will power to pull it off.”

For the parent, dealing with an allergic teenager entering the dating world can be nerve-racking. Most deaths caused by reactions to food happen to people between 10 and 19 – a coming of age period when kids fear an allergy will prevent them from fitting in, according to a survey conducted by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.

Communication is key: “You have to know your teen,” says Beth Goldstein, a social worker whose 17-year-old son is allergic to peanuts.

Beth’s son, Ben, is so exquisitely sensitive to peanuts that she believes he once had a reaction from bits of peanut shell stuck to his shoes after a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game. A couple of days after the game, Ben put on his shoes just before popping an allergy pill. He promptly threw up, his usual reaction to small amounts of the allergen.

Beth thinks his fingers touched the soles of his shoes and then the pill he put in his mouth. “I’m pretty sure thats what caused it,” she says.

When Ben was 13, Beth sat him down before dispatching him to summer camp. “You may have a girlfriend,” Beth told her son, “and you’re probably going to want to kiss her.” Then Beth told a story about the babysitter with a severe peanut allergy who kissed a girl at a high school dance and had to rush to the emergency room. It turned out the girl had eaten an Oh Henry candy bar.

The moral of the story, Beth told her son, was this: “You’re going to have to feel comfortable enough to ask her whether she’s eaten peanut butter in the last few hours.” He replied: “Oh Mom, I know.”

Today, Ben puts it this way, “Whoever I am dating needs to have a very good understanding of my allergy.” He always asks before kissing, noting: “You have to pull one of the smooth moves.”

His technique? Ask her if you can share her Coke and then, before sipping, pop the question: Have you had peanuts today? Or pull out the EpiPen. Ben’s not embarrassed about it any more. “It’s a shy issue but you have got to overcome it. If she isn’t willing to understand, or if you don’t feel comfortable, maybe it’s not worth it.”

First published in Allergic Living magazine, Spring 2005
(c) Copyright AGW Publishing Inc.

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.