Educating Relatives and Friends to Take Food Allergies Seriously
Understanding all the nuances of newly diagnosed food allergies for your child can be difficult. Once you’ve had time to digest this new information, the next step is to share this newfound knowledge and experience with others who might be responsible for caring for your child without you around.
Unfortunately, this process can be frustrating as some friends and relatives may not take food allergies as seriously as you do. Some people fail to recognize the problem because people with food allergies look perfectly healthy. Unless they’ve seen someone have an anaphylactic reaction, it’s difficult to wrap their mind around the concept. This is especially true for older acquaintances or grandparents who didn’t grow up with a lot of food allergic friends or colleagues. Just in case you run into some roadblocks when talking about food allergies with friends or relatives, here are some helpful hints to get the conversation back on track.
Be patient and direct:
Learning new ideas and concepts takes time and food allergies are no exception. Start with the most important information and keep your explanations short, simple and to the point. Make sure you are direct when providing explanations so you don’t leave anything open to interpretation. A written Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan is a great resource that provides additional guidance on how to manage a reaction:
Be detailed: assume that your audience doesn’t know anything about food allergies so start with the most basic details you can think of, even if you think these specifics are common sense.
- avoidance measures,
- label reading,
- food preparation,
- recognizing signs and symptoms of a reaction,
- and how to appropriately treat a reaction so there is no doubt what your expectations are.
Don’t forget to include an auto-injector training device in your explanation and practice using it together.
Use reliable educational resources:
There are a lot of great educational resources online from reputable sources so don’t feel like you must reinvent the wheel. Refer friends and family to these sites so that they can get the information they need to truly understand a food allergy diagnosis.
Speak calmly and avoid scare tactics:
While food allergies can be serious, make sure to explain that they can be managed effectively with certain precautions. Avoid scare tactics or dire warnings when presenting food allergies to the newly initiated as this approach might have the opposite effect you’re going for.
Allow your child with food allergies to participate in the conversation and include them in the educational process whenever possible. Allowing kids to speak for themselves provides a sense of empowerment and will give them the confidence they need to advocate for their own health now and in the future.
Enlist the help of a healthcare professional: sometimes attempts at food allergy education can fall short and family members and friends can still have lingering questions. In these situations it might be necessary to call in reinforcements and enlist the help of your food allergy specialist. Consider setting up an office visit or telemedicine appointment where all parties can be present.
Always be available:
Let family and friends know that they are partners in your allergy management, and that you are open to their questions.
It’s not always easy having these interactions with friends and family, but it’s a necessary conversation to have. Taking these measures can help build trust and cooperation culminating in a safer environment for your child with food allergies.
Justin C. Greiwe, MD, FACAAI, FAAAAI
Partner I Bernstein Allergy Group, Inc.
Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine I University of Cincinnati
8444 Winton Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45231