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School and Allergies, Asthma

Food Allergy, Teens: The Danger Years

Keely Hutton is only 13, but already her mother is realizing that teen parties are an issue for her daughter. For instance, the mother of one of Keely’s friends, who was hosting a party, said it wouldn’t be wise for Keely to come. They were going to serve a Dairy Queen cake and other treats might have nuts or peanuts as well. Keely understood that her safety likely was an issue – as a competitive gymnast, she has broken into hives just from making contact with a balance beam that had been touched by a girl who had eaten peanut butter. Cindy also didn’t want her to attend the party if it wouldn’t be safe.

But it was wrenching to watch. “Keely’s usually good-natured, she knows she has to deal with her allergies,” says Cindy. “But that time, she said: ‘Mom, this is what my life’s going to be like, isn’t it? I won’t be able to go to parties.’” This has made Cindy and her husband realize that, just as Keely hosted most of the sleepovers with friends as a little girl, the social solution is to have Keely host more of the parties in the safe environment of the Huttons’ home.

Dating also presents challenges for the food allergic teen. Alice Blake jokes that boys Kathleen has brought home to meet the parents tend to be grilled – not so much on their intentions – but on whether they’ve eaten peanuts or nuts. They are politely, but firmly, reminded that they can’t do so around Kathleen.

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THE CHALLENGES facing allergic teens are manageable. Even highly allergic students such as Kathleen and Keely are stars in their respective sports, competing province-wide; allergies have not held them back. As journeys with teammates on buses present food issues, their parents have become veteran chauffeurs, travelling with their teens alongside the bus in the family car.

Kathleen, who plays soccer and basketball in both high school and women’s community leagues, has even graduated to bus trips with the other kids. A highlight was a class trip to New York last year. A teacher who was to chaperone on the trip contacted Alice to see which restaurants would be considered safe, and what extra precautions to take. For the bus ride, students were told to not bring anything with peanut because “some people” were allergic. (Kathleen appreciated not being singled out.)

For teens who can’t recall an allergic reaction, it is a bigger job getting them to admit they may be very much at risk. From experience dealing with teenagers, Young thinks part of the solution is for parents and educators to make sure there is good awareness of the risk of anaphylaxis within schools. Young called Bishop Smith’s campaign “the safety and awareness” program. The idea behind this is that the higher the level of awareness of allergies within the whole school populace, the greater the level of safety.

Parents need to be proactive about making sure measures are in place to protect older children at their high schools. But the experts say they also must keep reminding teenagers to ask about allergens, not to risk “may contains” and to find a means of carrying their auto-injectors. Young says that, above all, it is essential to get teenagers to buy into taking responsibility for their own conditions.

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