Living with allergies
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you – or your child – are at risk of anaphylaxis; there’s so much to consider. However, there are many things you can do to reduce the risk of a severe reaction, and with the right information and support you can feel more comfortable and secure.
No matter how old you are, or what type of allergy you have, there are some ‘rules’ you should live by. These aren’t designed to limit your activities, but they will help protect you.
- Do your best to avoid your triggers. This means you need to learn what your triggers are, and where they might be lurking.
- Carry your medication with you at all times. When you think about it, it’s no more trouble than carrying your wallet, or house keys or mobile – and you wouldn’t leave home without them!
For some simple tips, advice and resources that will help you navigate your way through living with allergies, browse the different advice topics below.
LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLERGIES FROM OUR NATIONAL ALLERGY ORGANISATIONS
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA) is a charitable, not for profit organisation who’s aim is to improve awareness of allergy in the Australian community. They share current information, education, advocacy, research, guidance and support. They are primarily a volunteer-based patient support organisation that is supported by membership fees, sale of resources and donations.
The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) is a professional medical organisation, comprised predominantly of clinical immunology and allergy medical specialists. The mission of ASCIA is to advance the science and practice of clinical immunology and allergy, by promoting education and the highest standard of ethical medical practice.
Allergy New Zealand is a national charity that provides you with reliable information, education and support so you can manage you or your child’s allergy and live an active and healthy lifestyle.
KEEPING YOUR HOME AS ALLERGEN FREE AS POSSIBLE
Your home is the easiest place to reduce the risk of a severe allergic reaction for you or your child. This is a space that you control, whether it is the type of food or toys you allow in the house, or the plants in the garden, or the anti-insect measures you take. Of course, even with the most vigilant attention allergens can still enter your home, but you have the best chance of limiting exposure at home.
The easiest way to avoid food allergy reactions is simply not have the food in the house. If this is not possible, ensure the allergenic food is kept separately to other food to avoid cross-contamination.
Ensure whoever does the shopping reads and understands food labels.
Allergy-free food does not have to be boring, check out our recipes for a sweet treat or a hearty meal.
Well-meaning friends and relatives can bring triggers into your home. Ensure they know what substances are potentially dangerous and that the results of exposure could be life threatening.
Flower-free gardens that are less likely attract bees or wasps, or contain fewer pollen-producing tree and grasses, can still be beautiful, make friends with your local nursery staff.
If your child has an allergy, ensure all carers know what the triggers are, how to avoid them, how to recognise the signs of a reaction and what to do in an emergency.
School – the primary years
If your child has severe allergies, you may find the thought of starting school quite scary, but you can ease the stress. It is important though that you understand you will never create an entirely risk-free environment.
Preparing the adults
- Informing and educating teachers and other carers at the school about your child’s allergy and how to manage it is vital.
- Meet the principal and your child’s teacher to explain your child’s medical condition.
- Arrange progressive meetings to ensure everyone stays up to date.
- Give a copy of your child’s ASCIA Action Plan for Anaphylaxis to the school.
- Visit the canteen to see what foods are stocked and how you can work with the canteen and school staff so that your child can purchase safe foods. Maybe you could provide a photo of your child to be placed on the wall explaining that he or she should not be given a certain food (or any food if the allergen is difficult to avoid).
- Be sure your child (or the teacher) carries an emergency medical kit on excursion or sports days.
- Seek help from teachers asking the other children NOT to share food with your child.
Download the 10-point plan for school readiness here.
Ensure teachers are aware of and have been trained on how to use an adrenaline auto-injector.
Preparing your child
- If your child has preliminary symptoms before an allergic reaction, make sure he or she knows to tell the teacher immediately, no matter what else is happening.
- Be sure your child knows not to take food from other children. Explain that some types of food can make them very sick, and provide strategies to help them refuse food without alienating other children.
- Your child should know where his or her adrenaline auto-injector is stored at the school.
Helping YOUR TEENAGER MANAGE THEIR ALLERGIES
As children mature, the risk of severe allergies may actually increase rather than lessen. This is because teenagers naturally take risks, rebel against authority and are affected more by their peer group than by the adults they looked up to as children. Try not to panic, and try not to impose new restrictions. Your child will have to learn to manage his or her medical condition, and it’s never too soon to start.
- As you give your child increasing freedom in social activities, also give the responsibility of managing the risk of severe allergies. This may involve having your 14-year-old explain to friends and their parents what anaphylaxis is, or allowing your 17-year-old to organise his or her medical appointments and medication requirements.
- Information is key. The more your child knows about and understands allergy and anaphylaxis the more likely he or she is to manage it appropriately.
- TRUST in your child’s abilities and give him or her the space to make mistakes and learn from them.
A PERSONAL ACTION PLAN IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF LIVING WITH ALLERGIES
Becoming an adult is an exciting time of your life. Gaining independence and taking on responsibilities can take a while to get used to, but is also very rewarding. One of those responsibilities is understanding your allergies and looking after your health.
In both teenagers and young adults, the risk of severe allergies may actually increase as you mature rather than lessen. It is therefore important that you are equipped with the skills to manage any severe allergies and to know how to access your health care professionals.
It is never too soon to start learning about allergies and anaphylaxis.
Information specifically designed for young adults
DEALING WITH EVERY DAY IN THE OFFICE
Responsibility at work is a 2-way street. Your employer has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for you, while you have a responsibility to inform and educate your workmates so they do not inadvertently place you in risky situations.
- Tell your employer before you start work that you have a medical condition and what they can do to reduce the risk of you having a severe allergic reaction.
- Don’t keep it a secret. At least some of your workmates should know you have a potentially life-threatening allergy, how to recognize the signs of trouble, and what to do in an emergency.
- Wear some form of medical identification symbol on a bracelet or necklace.
- If you have an adrenaline auto-injector, ensure it is accessible to your workmates so it can be administered if necessary.
- At work lunches or functions with food, request an allergy-free option, and ensure those responsible for ordering understand that you have a medical condition, not just an aversion to a particular type of food.
- If food is provided and you are not sure if it is safe for you, don’t eat it!
Some simple steps can make that special outing fun, not fraught
- Avoid deep fried foods as many different items are generally fried in the same oil.
- BBQs can be dangerous. Put foil under your food and use separate cooking utensils to avoid cross-contamination.
- The excitement of special occasions and celebrations often poses an increased risk, particularly if alcohol is involved. Remember to always be careful about your food. If you’re not sure, politely refuse.
- When you book a restaurant tell the person taking the booking about your food allergy.
- When you arrive at the restaurant, ask the waiter if you can speak with the chef or the manager.
- A menu does not list EVERY ingredient in a dish, so ask! If the staff seem unsure it’s better to order something else.
Insect bite/sting allergies
- Always wear shoes outdoors.
- Cover up as much as possible and wear insect repellent.
- Bright colours can attract insects.
- Try to steer clear of flowering plants.
- Leave gardening and lawn moving to those who are NOT insect-sting allergic.
- Stay away from areas that you know have insects to which you are allergic, e.g. ticks.
Help protect yourself and raise awareness by informing others
Allergy and anaphylaxis do not just affect those at risk, they are a community-wide concern. By talking to friends and family about your (or your child’s) condition and how they can help you, you not only gain allies in dealing with your own (or your child’s) allergy, but those people will be more understanding of others who are in the same position.
Don’t let allergies stop you travelling, just do it wisely
A weekend away, two weeks of sun and surf, that lifetime dream of months on another continent… it’s all possible. Don’t let the risk of anaphylaxis stop you from travelling. All it takes is a few sensible precautions and some organisation, and you can be heading off on that much-needed break.
Know your triggers
Avoidance is the most effective way of managing allergies, so if you are planning on travelling it’s vital that you know what your triggers are. You may still be unpleasantly surprised, but preparation will reduce your risk.
- Research your destination, particularly if you are travelling overseas.
- Learn the local word for all of your triggers.
- Try to find out how prevalent any of your triggers are in locations you will be visiting.
- If you have a food allergy, avoid markets where you cannot predict what will be available.
- Find out about food labelling laws in any countries you will be visiting.
- If you have an insect bite or sting allergy always wear a DEET-containing repellent and cover up as much as possible.
- Part of the fun of any holiday is the planning and anticipation. When you are travelling with someone at risk of anaphylaxis, this planning stage is very important.
- Find out the location of the nearest hospital/emergency centre.
- Inform travel and accommodation providers of your allergy as early as possible, and remind them immediately prior to arrival.
- Ensure you have enough medication to cover the duration of your trip, plus some in reserve. BUT, if you are travelling internationally also check that any medication you are carrying is legal in the countries you are planning on visiting.
- Obtain, and make copies of, a letter from your doctor detailing your allergy and the medication required to manage it.
- If you are travelling to countries where English is not the primary language spoken ensure you have a card with emergency information translated into the local language.
Download further tips about travelling safely.
If you are flying
- Read the ‘allergy policy’ of the airline.
- Inform the airline when booking that you have an allergy and, if possible, get written confirmation that you can carry an adrenaline auto-injector with you.
- Carry a letter from your GP/specialist stating that you have a potentially life-threatening allergy and must carry an adrenaline auto-injector if the doctor recommends this.
- Take your own food if you have a food allergy.
You can get more tips about airlines by downloading the fact sheet
ASCIA has a Travel Plan you can download here.
A PERSONAL ACTION PLAN IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF LIVING WITH ALLERGIES
Everyone at risk of anaphylaxis should have an up-to-date ASCIA Action Plan. These documents are developed with and signed by your GP or allergy specialist. They should be updated every time there is a change in the way your allergies are managed, or at least every 12 to 18 months. ASCIA Action Plans include space for a photo, so if your child has an allergy, be sure to update the photo regularly.
LOOKING FOR MORE INFORMATION?
Anaphylaxis101 is just one online resource if you are looking to learn more about anaphylaxis. The following reputable websites also contain useful information about understanding and managing allergies and anaphylaxis.
In an anaphylactic emergency
Lay the person flat.
Administer adrenaline auto-injector (if they have one) into outer mid thigh and hold for 10 seconds.
Phone 000 in Australia or 111 in NZ and ask for an ambulance.
Commence CPR if necessary.