Ruth Holroyd – What Allergy
Teens and young adults are risking their lives daily and it’s got to stop
Young adults and teenagers are taking risks and that’s so dangerous; they’re taking responsibility for their own safety in all aspects of their daily lives so it’s understandable that they might not want to attract attention to their allergies. However this can and does have tragic outcomes far more often than it should.
Teens and adults aged between 18-30 years old are a very high risk community when it comes to anaphylaxis risk and mortality.
Why do teens and young adults take risks with their allergies?
There are lots of reasons kids take risks and we may get frustrated with them for not taking better responsibility. Teen life is tough, it’s hard to accept that you have a potentially life threatening health condition. Adults struggle with that anxiety and fear on a daily basis so it’s not surprising young adults do too.
- They might not remember their last anaphylactic reaction, so the severity is down played in their minds
- Some kids wrongly begin to believe they may not be allergic any more
- No two reactions are the same and allergies are complex; they may decide after a mild reaction to adopt more risky behaviour
- Severe Anaphylaxis can happen to people who have only ever had mild reactions previously
- Young adults often don’t carry their adrenaline with them at all times because it’s bulky, doesn’t fit in their bag, they forgot or they don’t think they’re going to eat so it’ll be ok.
- They don’t like being nagged to take Epipens with them and may act up out of rebellion or just sheer bloody mindedness
- Being a teen is tough, they just want to fit in, and allergies don’t fit in with ‘normal’.
- They cease to fall under the NHS allergen care and are often discharged at 16 years old, this can give the impression it’s not important any more and they won’t be having tests annually that confirm they are still allergic
Add to all this the fact that they are just venturing out into the world alone, having adventures and taking full responsibility for their own safety. There is a lot going on, so maintaining your own personal safety regime might not come top of the list. But it’s so important that taking precautions for those with food allergies is part of the essential life admin, like brushing teeth and bathing. Taking adrenaline everywhere and being open about food allergies could save their lives.
Reactions can worsen over time
No two allergic reactions are exactly the same due to so many external influences including:
- Stress and anxiety
- Immune system overload
- Menstruation, to name just a few
Add all these factors to the phenomenon that avoiding your allergen for years when protected as a young child doesn’t mean your reaction or allergy lessens or goes away. Far from it. The next time you consume the allergen the body can go into overdrive and the reaction can be far, far more serious as the body quickly leaps into action on recognising the danger allergen.
Even young adults who appear to have it all sorted and have been managing their allergies brilliantly over the years may start to believe they are no longer affected. When in actual fact, a mistake, risk or slip up with food allergens could be disastrous.
What can YOU do about it?
As a food business operation you can help us keep these vulnerable young adults safe. Here’s how:
- Always ask every diner if they have any allergies before you take any orders, but particularly 18-30 year olds. Pay them special attention and encourage them to answer.
- Have the presence of allergens and cross contamination clearly labelled on your menus so they don’t have to ask (although they should have a conversation).
- Have a conversation with them to understand the severity and advise them on what’s safest, help them make good safe choices.
- Train your staff to understand the importance of robust food allergen safety protocols
With the rise of dining apps, and all the factors we’ve discussed here, it’s absolutely paramount to be having two-way conversations with this at risk group. Every time they eat at your establishment.
FARE’s Teens with Food Allergies resources can really help young adults and their families to prepare for the responsibilities of allergy life. Click here to find out more: https://www.foodallergy.org/living-food-allergies/information-you/teens-food-allergies
If you have kids, friends or family members in this ‘at risk’ group, please look out for them. Find the line between nagging and supporting; encourage them to be open with their support network and to take the necessary precautions required, like always carrying two adrenaline autoinjectors and always stating they have food allergies when eating out.