Questions and Answers: A Teenager’s Perspective: Living with Multiple Food Allergies, Atopic Dermatitis and Asthma

My 15-year-old son, Michael, has lived with multiple food allergies, atopic dermatitis and asthma since he was a baby.

Multiple Food Allergies: Dairy, eggs, beef, sesame, fish, shellfish, peanuts/tree nuts, raspberries and mustard.

Atopic Dermatitis: his triggers include: heat, stress, grass, citrus, cantaloupes, and non-hypo- allergenic detergents (Tide in particular)

Asthma: his triggers include: dust, exercise (over doing it), hockey arenas (over doing it on the ice), colds, really cold air and really hot air (high humidity), and lots of pollen in the air.

I thought it would be interesting to post a question/answer period with my son to get a teenagers perspective on what it was like growing up and living with the tri-factor of the allergy world: multiple food allergies, atopic dermatitis and asthma.

Michael  is entering that stage in his life where studies have proven that teens with food allergies take more risks. Two good sites for teenagers with food allergies are FAAN, The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network and Why Risk It?, at Anaphylaxis Canada. Both provide information for teens with food allergies.

In order to help our teenagers through this period of adjustment, I believe we need to: ask questions, truly listen, keep the lines of communication open, and show compassion, love and understanding. Our children’s’ journey with food allergies, atopic dermatitis and asthma will soon be their’s alone…they need all the support they can get.

So…what is a teenager’s perspective on growing up and living with the tri-factors of the allergy world?

In typical teenager fashion, Michael tended to want to rush through the questions with yes and no answers. A little ‘pulling of teeth’ garnered a few more ‘tid bits’. As you can see from the picture below, we were still on speaking terms at the end.

michael and me after our interviewIn all honesty, I can’t express enough how proud I am of Michael. He has truly been through so much…he deserves a happy ending.

What is your earliest memory of living with atopic dermatitis?

I remember staying home from school because my skin was so bad. It was probably in kindergarten or Grade 1.

Food allergies?

I remember getting my first allergy testing done on my arm. It was very itchy and it hurt a bit. Not like it is now. I like to get it done on my back now because I don’t like to see it. It doesn’t hurt… I think it hurt because I was young and was scared.

Asthma?

Playing road hockey. I remember having coughing fits.

How would you describe what it feels like having atopic dermatitis?

It sucks!

I mean what does it FEEL like?

I try to block it out. I don’t feel it anymore.

What gave you the greatest comfort when you were uncomfortable?

When you sang ‘Ally Bally Be’ to me.

What did you like about my singing that song?

I liked it when you would sing and rub my back. I would forget about the itching and was able to fall asleep.

Did you ever notice a correlation between food and your skin?

Yes. Oranges for sure. I would eat too many and then my skin would go all red. When it was red it was dry and when it was dry it was terrible.
One time I had a whole bag of Swedish Berries and went all red in the face.
Coke would make my skin break out the next day after I drank it.
Yes, we discovered that Coke had caramel in it which can be derived from dairy. After you stopped drinking Coke, the break outs on your hands went away.

Was it hard to focus at school? What helped?

Yes. Nothing helped.

How would you describe the on-coming of an allergic reaction?

I would get a tingling on the tongue. After that I would feel like I was going to throw up and I would.

Were you ever bullied or teased for your skin issues or food allergies? Did you feel different? Were you treated differently?

No, I was never bullied. Yes, I felt different but I can’t explain it. Yes, I think people felt and still feel bad for me.

What has having multiple food allergies, atopic dermatitis and asthma taught you?

To be thankful for what you got: my loving family, everything I have and  am able to do.

If you could give any advice to children and parents of children living with multiple food allergies, atopic dermatitis and asthma, what would you say to them?

It will get better eventually…I think. It wasn’t set in stone that I would get better so…I don’t know. I feel I got lucky getting over the eczema part.

What do you do to maintain your skin now?

I moisturize. I like the Vaseline intensive rescue, extra strength, unfragranced formula. I put it on after I shower in the morning and sometimes at night.

Do you feel safe at highschool?

Kind of because I have friends that look out for me. When someone pulls out something with nuts, they tell them to be careful because I’m allergic.

Do you think it helped that your Grade 8 class was educated along with you on the signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction and how to use an epi pen?

I think they feel more comfortable around me.

You eat in the cafeteria surrounded by your food allergens. What steps do you take to ensure you do not encounter any cross-contamination?

I don’t eat anything that isn’t from home. I use hand sanitizer and don’t put my food on the caf table.

You had an allergic reaction this past weekend from cross-contamination. What did that teach you? (Michael ate plain chips from a bag that were contaminated with a dairy dip that his dad had been eating with the chips.)

I need to still be careful eating foods that I can eat.

Eating out in restaurants is on our to do list. Where would you want to go? What would you want to order that you can eat?

Swiss Chalet. A salad with their Chalet dressing, plain baked potato and a 1/4 chicken plate with their special sauce.

Do you ever get frustrated with your food allergies, atopic dermatitis or asthma?

Yes. I can’t eat stuff, I get itchy and I can’t go as hard as I want to playing sports.

What do you look forward to in the future?

Hopefully being able to eat foods that I can’t right now, getting my asthma under control and hopefully I can improve my skin.

So, what do you think about our interview?

Awful…just torture…it was okay…I don’t know…I don’t know what else to say…are we done?michael in our interview

As he walked away munching a Krispie Square, he said, “I hope I get a happy ending…”

“I do too sweetie, I do too!

Remembrance Day: Today I remember all those who dedicated their lives so we may live a better life…especially Thomas Beaton, my grandfather’s brother. He was part of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets (Part 1) and died August 24th 1944. His name, along with many others, is in the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland. I have had the priveledge to visit and surprisingly found his name to the shock of my grandfather…priceless!

P.S. As always, any products I mention in these posts are my own personal recommendations. No one’s paying me to recommend them. They’re just what has worked for our family. Your own needs and preferences may be different!