Teenagers and allergies: helping them cope
Being a teenager is difficult enough without throwing a severe allergy into the mix. So it’s important that the transition to managing their own allergy is not too sudden. A little forward planning and keeping lines of communication open can make a big difference to their confidence in taking on this responsibility for themselves. So here are some suggestions that could help things run smoothly:
- Start educating your child early
Slowly increase responsibility so that by the time they reach teen years, they are not overwhelmed by the sudden change of a parent/carer not being around to handle allergy management. Get them to read food labels, tell people about their food allergy and with supervision, make it their job to remember to take their medical kit when going to school or going out and away from home. The progression needs to happen slowly throughout childhood and is dependent on their age, understanding, emotional state, maturity etc. Discuss appropriate increase in responsibility and letting go with your GP and allergy specialist.
- Try to make allergy just another thing you talk about.
Having the right balance of focus and attention is important so that you don’t communicate your anxiety, but have the right level of care and caution in managing it.
- Organise an allergy specialist visit before the end of primary school.
Talk to your child about the need for them to speak with their doctor and, if not too daunting for the child, allow them to speak with the doctor on their own (you can step into the appointment toward the end and get an update on care and treatment from the doctor too).
- LISTEN to your teen’s concerns and discuss how they might overcome them.
Allow them to come up with ideas on how they think they might manage a situation. Sometimes role playing is a good idea but your teen might prefer to just think it through themselves and then discuss with you when they want to.
- Involve your teen in their allergy management plans
This could mean including them in meetings with the school to discuss activities such as camp and issues such as carrying their prescribed medication in person or in a backpack or bumbag, which is always with them. It is a drag, so listen to their complaint but explain why it is important to do so.
- Be creative in how to help educate your teen and their friends
It’s important to deliver information in a way they will understand. For example, if your prescribed medication comes with a device, practising with the trainer device (if available) can grab their interest. Don’t forget to let them know not to stand up or walk and call an ambulance. There is a teen app they can download and watch Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA) videos on YouTube which will help get the important messages through.
- Encourage them to be open about their allergy
For example, when your teen gets their first part-time job, encourage them to disclose their allergy and offer to help explain signs and symptoms and emergency treatment if they won’t or if they prefer not to do it alone.
- Put allergy in perspective
Remind teens it is much more embarrassing to have an anaphylaxis episode in front of their friends than it is to take the right preventative steps. This includes letting people know about their allergy, disclosing the allergy when buying food and always having medication with them. And…imagine how the teen’s friends would feel if something happened and they were helpless because they knew nothing?! Yeah, severe allergy stinks but everyone has something they need to deal with.
- Prepare for the transition to an adult allergy specialist
As your child nears 16 years of age it is time to discuss transition to an allergy specialist that sees adults. Discuss this transition with your child and the paediatric allergy specialist so you all have an understanding of when and how the transition will happen.
This article has been produced in collaboration with Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia and Alphapharm Pty Ltd (trading as Mylan Australia) in the interest of anaphylaxis education