June’s Allergy Teens Talk features Campbell, an outgoing teen with lots of experience dealing with food allergies and tons of advice to share.
Campbell covers almost all aspects of life with food allergies, from dating to friends to school to staying positive despite her struggles. Her plentiful advice and tips are very helpful for someone who is looking for help safely managing their food allergies while still being able to lead a “normal” life.
The positive impacts that having food allergies have had on Campbell’s life are unique and inspirational, and they help us remember that no matter what the situation, there is always some good that can come out of it.
Enjoy the summer, and stay safe and well!
Allergy Teens Talk: Campbell
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Name: Campbell Shaw
Allergies and when you were diagnosed: eanuts and formerly tree nuts, diagnosed at one-year-old
Age/grade: 18, 12th grade
From: Sarasota, Florida
Questions What is the main struggle you have faced growing up or being a teen with food allergies?
I feel as if my allergies affected me more when I was younger than as a teenager. I used to be petrified of my allergens and would often overreact if I spotted a classmate with peanut butter. However, after 18 years of learning how best to deal with my allergy, it feels like just another part of me. Sometimes I have to explain it to people, sometimes I have to ask someone to put a granola bar away, and sometimes it’s still scary, but I know how to make sure I’m always in control of my surroundings and keep myself safe.
It can also be challenging to be assertive around parents and teachers who don’t understand the severity of your allergy, especially when you’re very young. You have to be able to stand up for yourself and refuse food that you know might not be safe.
Many challenges come with anaphylactic allergies, but I like to think that they build resilience and strength!
How does having food allergies affect dating?
I had my first boyfriend in my sophomore year of high school, and it was certainly a challenge to make sure he was avoiding peanuts every day. Luckily, I have always been a very outgoing, somewhat forceful advocate for myself, so I was very direct and firm when it came to asking him to avoid peanuts! When he asked me to homecoming, I talked with him before the dance about my allergies and made him promise not to eat anything that might put me in danger, and he agreed.
That homecoming, I had my first kiss, and there was no drama! We went on to date for several months, and he was very accommodating. I always made sure to ask him if he had eaten peanuts before we kissed, probably too much, but I was more concerned with being safe than with being annoying!
I had another boyfriend in my junior year, and, ironically, he had more anaphylactic allergies than me! It was a very new experience for me to look out for allergens for another person instead of just for myself. Still, because I knew the serious nature of allergies, I was very diligent and even checked the ingredients in my shampoo for his allergens. That was a very beneficial experience for me, even though I found it more frightening to feel like his life was, in some ways, in my hands. This experience gave me perspective on the pressure that my allergy puts on the guy I date and will help me understand how scary my allergy may be for my future boyfriends.
How do you advocate for yourself when it comes to your food allergies?
I have had the advantage of always being a precocious, outgoing person. Even from a young age, I never had a problem speaking up and telling adults that I didn’t feel comfortable eating anything other than what I brought from home. This has been an essential part of the strict avoidance that my parents and I practice.
It can be unpleasant when someone doesn’t understand anaphylaxis and insists that an item they baked or purchased is safe for you to eat. You have to tell them “no” repeatedly and that you won’t eat anything you haven’t confirmed is safe, but I guarantee it is worth it in the long run. I haven’t been afraid to be commanding or insistent on people who aren’t willing to listen, and I recommend that you get comfortable with that possibility too.
Being your own advocate means always making sure you have your own food if you don’t know if the food being served safe, always checking ingredients, carrying auto-injectors, and always avoiding your allergens.
What advice would you give to other teens with food allergies?
If you’ve suffered from food allergies your whole life as I have, you’ve probably cracked the code of avoiding allergens. While we teens are still regularly in new situations where we have to adapt and overcome, we pretty much have this whole allergy thing figured out!
So, for you, my fellow seasoned allergy sufferers, my advice is never to forget how severe your allergy is. Never trust food or drinks that you haven’t seen the source of (i.e., drinks from strangers at parties). To never lose control of your surroundings or ease up on your precautions.
As we go to college and experience new things, we must always remember to prioritize our well-being, pack safe snacks, and epinephrine auto-injectors!
If you are a teen that has been newly diagnosed with a food allergy, my first advice is to take a deep breath and recognize that you will get through this. This is not a life-ending diagnosis, but rather an inconvenience that you will learn to overcome. The best advice I can give you is to avoid your allergen whenever it’s possible. There is never a good time to test out how severe your allergy is, so never let anyone convince you that it’s okay to taste a food you’re allergic to or anything of the sort.
Get in the habit of checking the ingredients in EVERYTHING. Check hand soaps, shampoos, dog food, anything you eat (even if you’ve eaten it before—sometimes companies change recipes) and any other products you come in contact with. This is going to be a long process, and you might want to ask a parent or trustee to help you out and double-check ingredients while you’re just starting on this journey.
Don’t be afraid to use resources like FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), and this blog can help you because you aren’t alone.
Lastly, make sure you always always always have at least two epinephrine auto-injectors with you. They could save your life, so even when it’s inconvenient, you need to carry these with you. I’ve had to wear my fair share of fanny packs, stuck Epis into my sports bra, and put them in the back pocket of my jeans far more than I would like, but like my family always says, “better safe than sorry.”
How do your friends treat you when it comes to your food allergies (do they understand them, do they advocate for you, do they respect them)?
I’ve found that how someone responds to your food allergy is a very telling indicator of who you want to surround yourself with them. If a friend is unwilling to put unsafe food away after asking, they aren’t a friend worth keeping. This isn’t to say that your friends have to entirely cut your allergen(s) out of their diet, and they just have to be willing to adjust when you’re around to avoid putting you in danger.
I’ve found that most people are very kind and accommodating once you politely explain your situation. Still, it’s essential to be prepared for those who aren’t willing to listen or accommodate.
How have you become more responsible in handling your food allergies, and have you experienced a shift of responsibility from your parents to you?
Once I started driving myself everywhere, a lot more of the burden fell on me. I’ve had to adjust to handling my food mainly on my own, especially when it comes to eating out with friends or something of that nature.
I was used to having my mom in the car with me every day, helping me navigate the challenges associated with my allergy, so it was frightening at first when I began gaining more independence. I have since gotten much more comfortable grocery shopping and eating out on my own. It takes some time, but eventually, it becomes second nature to do all of these daunting tasks on your own, even if that sounds impossible right now.
How do you handle your food allergies at school / in college?
I am now a senior in high school, so people bringing food in is rarer than it used to be in elementary and middle school. It used to be a constant struggle to be around food at class birthday parties where parents would unknowingly bring in baked goods that I never felt comfortable eating.
My parents were always incredibly helpful in finding alternatives so that I never felt left out, but it was still challenging. We kept a Tupperware box filled with safe candy and chocolate in my elementary school teacher’s closet so that I could pick out my own treats, and my mom would always offer to get me a safe version of whatever the other kids were eating when we were home.
In high school, I still deal with unknowing classmates or teachers eating or handing out things like Reese’s or nut-filled granola bars, but I’ve learned to either move to the other side of the classroom or ask them to refrain from eating it until I’m not around. People are usually kind, and since I know most of my classmates now as a senior, most of the people I’m around know about my allergy and are accommodating.
What advice would you give to the parents of young children with food allergies?
It’s going to get better! I’m sure it’s horrifying and daunting right now, and it will never stop being scary, but as your children get older, you will watch them become more and more capable of taking their allergies into their own hands. While my parents are still willing to help me find safe food or help me navigate life with an anaphylactic allergy, I am mostly independent when it comes to the food I eat, and honestly? It feels like no big deal.
It used to be the scariest part of my life, but by practicing strict avoidance and learning how to deal with difficult people and a world filled with allergens, it’s become just another thing I have to do every day. I haven’t had a second reaction since my very first anaphylactic reaction when I was one year old when my parents realized I had the allergy (knock on wood!) because my parents and I have been so diligent.
It is possible to help your child live a normal life and learn to cope with this inconvenience in time. My family’s motto regarding allergens has always been “better safe than sorry.” While anaphylactic allergies are nothing to take lightly, in time, it won’t be as scary and nearly impossible as it seems right now.
What positive things have come out of having food allergies (have you benefited from them in any way)?
I truly feel as if having an anaphylactic allergy for my whole life helped me to mature quicker since I always had to be aware of possible dangers.
I think my allergy bestowed maturity in me, which led to my success in school and extracurriculars. The desire to be in control of my surroundings because of allergens probably contributes to my leadership skills. I have always been a leader, and I’ve always been comfortable being in command of a room.
Despite the inconvenience that allergies can cause, I wouldn’t change my peanut allergy, because it’s a defining part of my personality that has helped shape who I am today.
Quick Fire Round
🍽 Favourite restaurant: Chipotle
🍨 Favourite food: Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream
🛒 Favourite allergy-friendly product or brand: Enjoy life
📆 What do you do on an average day? Compete in Speech & Debate, run a female leadership and discussion club, and listen to a lot of podcasts!
👩⚖️ Dream job: Lawyer
📱 Texting or talking? Talking
💙 Describe yourself in three words: Ambitious, clever, and loyal
Sophie is a sophomore in high school and our Teen Editor who lives with multiple food allergies . She created Food Allergy Alliance, a virtual allergy support group. She loves to bake and babysit. Sophie hopes you find the positive side of an allergic life.