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Teens Gamble with Food Allergies

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Wednesday, July 28th, 2010 | CWK Producer

“Teenagers are into convenience, and it’s not always convenient to follow the rules.”

– Dr. Jon Stahlman, M.D., Pediatric Allergist

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Across the country, 200 people die every year from allergic reactions to food. Those with allergies are often required to carry self-administered epinephrine, most widely prescribed as an EpiPen. New research from a study conducted at the Children’s Hospital in Boston reviewing outcomes of more that 1,200 children treated for food allergies in emergency rooms at two large Boston hospitals found that 12 percent of the children needed two doses, leading to a recommendation that kids carry two pens instead of one.

Additionally troubling is that according to research from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, more than half of teens with severe food allergies take risks that could have deadly results.

19-year-old Sarah, for example, is allergic to nuts, seafood and vegetable oil.

If she eats even a trace of those foods, she could get very sick.

“If I have really high exposure to it,” says Sarah, “I’ll tense up like my lungs will get really tight, and my throat will get really tight, like I’m about to have an asthma attack.”

“There have been times when, literally from head to toe, Sarah has been covered with eczema, and almost a blistering type of eczema,” says Sarah’s mom Lorrie.

So at school, in restaurants or even on dates, Sarah must follow strict rules.

“Well my ex-boyfriend, when we were dating,” says Sarah, “whenever he had shrimp or anything like that, I’d be like, ‘Well, you know you can’t kiss me for the rest of the evening because you’ve had that.'”

But new research shows that teens with food allergies often gamble with their lives.

54-percent of teens in the study ate food without checking the ingredients.

“It’s hard, especially because we don’t like having to think about things ahead of time,” says Sarah, “and having to prepare food. It is really easy to just go to McDonald’s and pick up a French fry when you are hungry.”

Around 40 percent of the teens surveyed did not always carry the medical injections that could save their lives during an emergency.

“Teenagers are into convenience,” says pediatric allergist Dr. Jon Stahlman, “and it’s not always convenient to follow the rules. Sometimes it’s not convenient to carry your self-injectable epinephrine or rescue device if you were to have a reaction.”

Experts say it helps to educate friends about the allergy.

“Having your friends as part of your team is like having an extra set of eyes,” says Dr. Stahlman, “an extra set of hands, somebody to help you when you are going out to eat to read labels.”

“Some people I know will kind of pop me on the hand if I order something I shouldn’t be eating,” says Sarah. “They’ll eat it for me, gladly.”

What We Need To Know

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, four percent of all kids in the United States – about 3 million — have food allergies – a condition that can have serious, but treatable, consequences. Foods that cause the most food allergies include peanuts and other nuts, seafood (such as shrimp), milk (particularly cow’s milk), eggs, soy, and wheat products.

Experts – and parents who have “been there” — offer these strategies to help kids and families manage the allergies:

  • Encourage your child to fully explain the dangers of food allergies to their friends. This will reduce the chances of your child seeming “picky” or “rude” if he or she can’t eat what is being served.
  • Often, other parents will accommodate your teen – if they fully understand the nature of the allergy. This can include serving foods that are safe for your child to eat, or not suggesting activities that would exclude your child.
  • With younger kids, it’s a great idea to keep snacks in the classroom. That way, if another parent brings food that your child cannot eat, he or she won’t feel left out.
  • Everywhere your child goes, make sure at least one person knows how to administer the self-injectable epinephrine (an EpiPen) in case of a severe food reaction.

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