Anaphylaxis describes a deathly serious allergic reaction affecting the entire body. Food, drugs,, and bee stings are common triggers. Anaphylaxis occurs quickly, causing possible death in minutes. A survey by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that anaphylaxis is fairly common. An estimated two percent of the U.S. will experience it in their lifetimes.
Young people with food allergies have the greatest risk of death by food-induced anaphylaxis. That danger appears to be rising. A study in New York showed the anaphylaxis hospitalization rate for patients under age 20 quadrupled between 1990 and 2006.
Unfortunately, teenagers demonstrate risky behavior related to food allergies and anaphylaxis. A survey found that 47 percent of teens with food allergies did not carry epinephrine while wearing tight clothes. Additionally, 54 percent had purposely eaten a potentially unsafe food.
It’s critical for parents to educate teens with anaphylactic risks. You can't read labels for them when they're away from home. You can provide them with info and tools to help safely manage their condition.
Avoiding Allergic Triggers
The most common food allergens include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. Parents looking to manage their child's risk should first consult with a certified allergist to identify all possible dangers.
Then learn to read labels and ask questions. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires packaged food to include warnings for those eight allergens. Fast-food restaurants like McDonald's, Burger King, and Taco Bell include updated allergy info online.
For other restaurants, call the location ahead of time to tell the staff about food allergies in your party. Most managers and chefs are willing to accommodate special diets, especially with prior notice.
Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for more info if the server doesn’t provide it. Recipes can change, even if your child has safely eaten a dish many times before.
Making a Plan
It’s important not only to educate your child but also to teach and empower the people around him or her. Medical IDs (usually bracelets or necklaces) make allergies and other relevant conditions clear to anyone who can read.
A one-page Anaphylaxis Emergency Action Plan offers more detailed info, including medical history, emergency numbers, and steps to take. This helpful form from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology also includes a quick checklist of anaphylactic symptoms.
Schools can be packed with danger for teens with food allergies. Aside from lunch, there are bake sales, field trips, and candy and treats. Research shows that 18 percent of children with food allergies have suffered a reaction while at school.
Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) provides an extensive guide for parents called Managing Food Allergies in the School Setting. It recommends a written emergency action plan that is discussed with a team of teachers, staff,, and healthcare providers. It also offers strategies for preventing bullying.
And then there’s kissing. Even if you don’t want to think about it, your teenager certainly is, and the risk of allergic exposure is real, if small. A 2006 study found that peanut allergens remained in saliva for several hours, and that brushing teeth or other measures did little to remove them.
Communicating with romantic partners about their food allergies is essential for teens at risk of anaphylaxis. They should talk to partners about which foods cause reactions. They also should teach their friends how to use their autoinjectors in case they cannot.
When Emergency Strikes
When symptoms occur, health experts advise immediate injection of epinephrine into the mid-anterior thigh. That's the front of the thigh, halfway between the center and the outer pants seam.
Epinephrine autoinjectors let teens, friends, or parents quickly give the critical medicine, usually through clothing. The Food Allergy Research & Education site has an excellent overview of autoinjectors and specifics about devices currently on the market.
After the injection, the patient should be rested flat with his or her feet slightly elevated to stabilize blood flow. They must also receive medical attention as soon as possible.
Most experts advise keeping two epinephrine injectors, in case a second dose is needed. A high percentage of anaphylactic patients suffer a second wave of symptoms. This second wave is a condition called biphasic anaphylaxis. That's why every injection of epinephrine should be followed by a 911 call and a trip to the emergency room, even if symptoms stop.
Being a teenager is hard enough without the burden of food allergies. With proper guidance and support, teens can reduce the risks and take control of their condition.