Kyle Dine, food allergy advocate, and educator, recently shared some food allergy tips geared specifically for teens. Dine’s tips are worth repeating since adolescence is when the still-developing human brain tends to favor exploration and risk-taking—two traits that can get a food allergic person in trouble.
Teens must also deal with tremendous peer pressure and kids who don’t fit in may find themselves excluded, or bullied. Dine understands these difficult issues first hand since he was, not that long ago, an adolescent with food allergies. His tips reflect his experience.
Dine’s Ten Tips for Teens
- Always carry epinephrine. Always carrying epinephrine means always, not usually, because food reactions are always a surprise. If you accidentally leave home without your epinephrine, go back and get it.
- Take ingredient lists seriously. When a food label says an item “may contain” this or that allergen, it may actually contain it. Also, remember that product ingredient, and restaurant recipes and suppliers frequently change—what was safe yesterday may not be today.
- Be aware of hidden allergens. Never assume that a food is safe: cross-contamination can turn otherwise okay foods into a problem, sharing drinks, cigarettes, or utensils increases your risk of a reaction, and just because foods or sauces look alike does not mean they are made alike.
- Know the risks of intimacy. A kiss can pass the proteins (allergens) in saliva from one person to another, and these allergens can remain in saliva for several hours—even after brushing. Ask your intimate friend or partner to avoid eating the foods you are allergic to.
- Don’t keep it a secret. Your friends will appreciate knowing about your allergy, what to expect should you have a reaction, and how they can help if you do. Never go off by yourself if you suspect a food reaction.
- Wear medical identification. With a severe food reaction, you may not be able to communicate what’s going on to those around you. Find a type or types of medical I.D. that you are comfortable with and always wear one.
- Prove you’re responsible. Teens want freedom from parental control, but trust needs to be earned. Show your parents that you are being allergy-responsible by always carrying epinephrine, always wearing a medical I.D., and by managing your allergy proactively. For instance, volunteer to help with meal planning and cooking, or research restaurant/food options for an upcoming vacation, or school field trip.
- Own your allergies. Tell your allergy story in your own way. Teach others – if necessary – to speak respectfully with you about it. Remember that your allergy does not define you, and that good self-management is your best ally.
- Be a leader, not a victim. You can empower yourself by educating others about food allergy. For instance, consider giving a school presentation, writing to a politician about allergy issues, or talking to restaurant managers about their options for food allergy patrons.
- Stay positive. It’s natural to become frustrated at times, but do your best to keep the allergy in perspective. Having an allergy is not a character weakness; you can still pursue your personal interests and enjoy a full, rich life.