Risk is the most misunderstood aspect of severe allergies to the outside world. However, it is also the most critical. Whether you’re a teen who is new to food allergies or you’re a parent with a food allergic child, risk must be distinctly understood – and very carefully managed.
If you follow my blog, you know this information isn’t coming from a professional of any kind. But it is coming from a severely allergic teen who has had two anaphylactic reactions – and many other smaller reactions – since she was diagnosed.
In the most recent years, I became more and more anxious about having a dangerous reaction. So I isolated myself from situations in which the risk could likely have been managed. Starting this blog, initially to encourage and empower other allergic teens, has motivated me to own my allergy and fight to thrive.
Hence, my series on risk. Here is part two.
The first step to managing risk is to look at the situation in question (i.e., friend’s house, church potluck, etc.) and ask, “Is it worth it?”
Spend enough years with your allergy and you’ll become familiar enough with what triggers a reaction to be able to answer that question. I can’t assess the risk for anyone but myself. When I go into a situation that surrounds me with wheat, yes, I become hypervigilant and, yes, anxiety spikes. But as long as I know I can avoid physical contact with the allergen, I know I’m most likely safe.
When there is even a small chance contamination has occurred (through physical contact), I’ll thoroughly wash my hands.
After deciding if it’s worth it, you need a plan of action. How will you keep yourself safe? How informed are the people around going to be about your allergy? Can you easily manage the situation if a reaction occurs?
All of this said, there is really never a guarantee that contamination won’t occur. “Is it worth it,” is the first most important question you’ll need to ask in any situation. My first post in this series has more information on this.
As a teen trying to manage a severe allergy in today’s world, I know the two most dangerous situations I could ever be in is to be alone and have an anaphylactic reaction or be with people I haven’t properly educated about the risk and go into anaphylactic shock.
You need to be equipped for both scenarios. Having an EpiPen or antihistamine on hand at all times is the best course, but not the only one. There’s a certain peace of mind that comes from knowing the people around you are prepared to handle an emergency. And if your situation involves a child in the public school system or with friends, you have to deliberately and thoroughly educate everyone involved.
I also want to mention here that if you have an allergen detection service dog or are planning to get one, that dog can be trained respond to a severe reaction (i.e., retrieving medication, getting help, etc.). However, it is not known at this time whether dogs have the ability to detect an anaphylactic reaction before we can.
Though not right for everyone, a service dog can also provide communication about the seriousness of a food allergy, simply by its presence.
It all boils down to common sense. There are some situations you will be forced to avoid. But the risk is going to be different for everyone. Multiple allergies, reactions to airborne allergens, and whether or not you experience anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening, will all dictate how much risk you can take in your daily life.
How does risk factor into your daily routine with food allergies? Have you ever considered an allergen detection service dog? Talk to me in the comments!