TV’s Jo Frost: Finding the Right Mindset with Allergies
Job: TV parenting expert
Lives with: Allergies to peanuts, nuts and shellfish, plus environmental allergies and asthma.
Allergic Living’s Gwen Smith interviews Jo Frost about her multiple allergies, and why she partnered in 2013 with Mylan Specialty, the marketer of the EpiPen, to heighten awareness of anaphylaxis. While speaking to the former “Supernanny”, we also got some of her insights on parties and sleepovers with allergic children.
Allergic Living: Jo, when I interviewed you for Allergic Living magazine back in the Summer of 2012, it was the first time you’d spoken out about your food allergies. Now, you’ve become a full-fledged allergy advocate. What is it that drives you in this direction and who is it you most want to inform?
Jo Frost: Well I think big, so for me it’s not ‘who’ but rather countries. I believe that in this country (the USA), both those who have life-threatening allergies and especially those who don’t have life-threatening allergies need to be educated and more aware. From the last time we spoke, it’s become very apparent to me that there was a lack of education and understanding about life-threatening allergies and the difference between the serious medical condition and allergies that perhaps are seasonal.
AL: Are you saying that people get confused between the sniffles and the risk of a big anaphylactic reaction?
JF: Absolutely. There’s confusion – and there’s also a huge lack of awareness and understanding. So when I had the chance to come together with Mylan Specialty and to recognize the 25th anniversary of the EpiPen, I was just, ‘wow, I’m on board, I’m on board’. To be able reach out to millions of people across America and really educate and bring awareness of the importance of potential life-threatening and severe allergies, that was of utmost importance to me.
AL: You are out there talking about anaphylaxis across the country. Have you heard things in the course of this that have surprised you?
JF: I would say some of the myths you hear surrounding life-threatening allergies. These are real medical conditions, and we need to educate to get Americans to understand that the real, life-threatening allergies have a serious impact. We have read in the media of situations that have been horrendous for some families with food-allergic children. So it’s important for people to understand: this is real.
Another myth is that people who have a food allergy have to be isolated or live in a bubble. That’s so not the case. As an allergic adult, I have traveled to 47 states in America, in and out of families’ homes, I’ve looked after children with allergies. For me that’s just a myth that needs to be dispelled.
People will also still say, ‘just a little bit will probably be OK’. Well, it’s not OK to ever try a small piece of anything that’s your life-threatening allergen. To me, it’s about what we can do about the awareness and the education. I’m working on this campaign on this 25th anniversary to share my story about living with this potential life-threatening condition that many of us deal with every day.
We have to further improve preparedness for anaphylaxis, and that’s something that’s certainly important to me and needs to be important to everybody who has or cares for somebody with life-threatening allergies.
I have an emergency action plan, and my first goal in it is to always know my signs and symptoms and to always avoid my allergens. I’m very, very vigilant about making sure that I’m empowered every day. It doesn’t restrict me in anything that I do, but I have to make sure that I’m prepared.
AL: You mentioned travel. What about socializing as an allergic adult?
JF: Just recently met some new neighbors [in California], and they kindly invited me to a dinner party. I picked up the phone a week in advance and spoke to the hostess. I explained that I have a life-threatening allergy, what’s known as anaphylaxis, and here’s what I’m allergic to.
I said: ‘I’d like you to look at your menu, if you don’t mind, because there may be some things I’m allergic to. But if you’ve already set that menu, I totally understand, and I’d be more than happy to come by later in the evening when everything is done and cleared up’.
And my neighbor said, ‘No, no, no, I’m so glad you called, and we can change the menu’. So she changed it and I went and had a happy dinner party – and met all my neighbors! It’s nice to be able to do that.
Of course it should go without saying, but always carry two EpiPens. They go wherever I go.
Next: Birthday Parties, Sleepovers with Allergies