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How do teenagers manage their food allergies?


Graham Roberts, Paediatric Allergy and Respiratory Medicine, Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, University of Southampton School of Medicine, Level F South Academic Block (Mail point 803), Tremona Road, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK.


Background The peak incidence of deaths from anaphylaxis associated with nut allergy occurs in teenagers and young adults. During adolescence, the management of food allergy shifts from being the responsibility of parents to that of the young person. This is a group who therefore need special attention in the clinic.

Objective This study aimed to understand the practical challenges that teenagers with food allergy experience using a qualitative approach and generate potential interventions for tackling these.

Methods Teenagers aged 1118 years with food allergy completed a questionnaire about their food allergy and underwent a focused, semi-structured interview with open questions guided by a priori topic areas. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and analysed using a thematic approach.

Results The study enrolled 18 teenagers with a median age of 15 years (10 females); the most common food allergens were peanuts and tree nuts. Three key themes emerged: avoidance of allergens, preparation for reactions and the treatment of reactions. The majority of teenagers reported eating foods labelled as ‘may contain’ an allergen as they perceive that they are actually very unlikely to contain an allergen. Many of the teenagers only carried their self-injectable adrenaline when they thought they are particularly at risk of a reaction. Some do not know how to appropriately treat an allergic reaction. More than half believed that educating other students at school about the seriousness of food allergies would make it easier to live with their food allergy.

Conclusions A significant number of teenagers demonstrate risk-taking behaviour in the management of their food allergies. Teenagers also felt it would be helpful for their peers to be educated about food allergy. This novel strategy might help them to avoid trigger foods and enable teenagers to access help more readily if they suffer a reaction.

Cite this as: H. Monks, M. H. Gowland, H. MacKenzie, M. Erlewyn-Lajeunesse, R. King, J. S. Lucas and G. Roberts, Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2010 (40) 1533–1540.