Helping Adults "Get" Food Allergies: A Matter of Life And Death

Gina Clowes Health Guide
  • When your child is diagnosed with food allergies, you soon find food is everywhere! The lady at the bakery counter is handing your child a cookie, the bus driver is passing out candy treats, the coach is doling out snacks after soccer practice, and the list goes on. Teachers, baby sitters, and other caregivers need to know how to keep your child safe, but even your sister-in-law, your son's coach or your neighbor can put your child at risk if they don't understand food allergies.


    Adults who interact with your allergic child need to know that food allergies are real. Some will grasp this easily. For others, the learning curve is steep.

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    Sadly, the majority of moms I hear from report a lack of support and understanding from family and friends.  Until the public is well informed about life-threatening food allergies, it's up to us to begin the education process.


    You'll want to start with an overview of food allergies. My experience is that it's better to provide published information rather than explaining food allergies in your own words.   It is pretty amazing that a bite or tiny smear of an everyday food can create serious allergic reactions. When moms deliver this information, sometimes there is so much anxiety, they either scare people or they're dismissed by others as over reactive.  

    Sharing true stories of food allergy reactions is a powerful way to make your point.  My own extended family did not really "get" food allergies until I shared Sabrina Shannon's story with them. Although these stories may overwhelm some who already understand, they are useful tools for those who disbelieve or deny the potential seriousness of food allergies.


    For close relatives and friends, you might consider taking them to an allergist appointment.  Allergists with expertise in food allergies are accustomed to dealing with denial and may be able to clear up any lingering doubts your loved ones may have.


    Some of my support group members have taken a photograph of their child during an allergic reaction. These pictures look completely different from the blissful children that everyone is used to seeing. People are often shocked at these pictures and they can leave a lingering impression in a way that words never can.


    It's also helpful to share your child's Food Allergy Action Plan. A good plan will include a picture of your child, his/her allergies, signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) and when to use the Epi-Pen or Twinject.  Having your allergist review and sign the form adds credibility. Seeing your child's picture and envisioning some of these frightening symptoms is enough to motivate many adults to do everything they can to protect your child.


     I  also recommend that you demonstrate how to use the epinephrine auto-injector (Epi-Pen or Twinject). It's fine to start out with a "trainer" but it really helps others learn when they inject a real (expired) Epi-Pen into an orange. There is something about seeing the real needle that gets their attention. And it's good practice too.


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    By this time, you've provided enough education to open the eyes of even those who have not encountered food allergies before.  Don't be surprised if you still encounter a few disbelievers, but you know enough not to trust these folks as caregivers.


    Innocent mistakes can be deadly and although we might not like to think like that, it's much better to address the potential seriousness up front rather than trying to pick up the pieces after a serious reaction. Having your child suffer an allergic reaction is no way to teach that lesson.

Published On: May 07, 2009