18 february 2013

Allergies complicate kissing


(Mike Ketler)
Erika Ladouceur shares coping strategies for dealing with deadly food allergies.

Dating can be stressful for teens. But it can be terrifying for those with life-threatening food allergies. When even tiny amounts of food can kill a person, they can be very fearful of kissing another person.

That was the case for Erika Ladouceur, a 24-year-old living in Victoria, British Columbia on Canada’s Pacific coast. She found a way to manage the problem then decided to share her experience with others. She started a support group for youth and parents living with allergies and later created a blog called Living with Allergies

Her goal was to let allergic teens know they were not alone.
Anaphylaxis is not understood by everyone. Sometimes it is difficult to convince people of the gravity of life-threatening allergies. The fact is that some people are so sensitive to certain foods, drugs or insect bites or stings that they can have sudden, deadly reactions with even tiny exposure. People who are aware they have this condition must carry emergency medication in case of accidental exposure. The situation  is frightening for the allergy-sufferers and their families.

“I think the big things for adolescents are really around dating with food allergies,” said Ms. Ladouceur. “That can be something of huge concern. I know for myself  I held off on dating because I was worried putting my life on the line with someone else who might have had a peanut butter sandwich.

The fear was that I would kiss someone and they would have eaten something that  would trigger a severe allergic reaction and that I would go into anaphylactic shock…very scary.”

Erika Ladouceur, left, who lives with many allergies including nuts, soy, legumes, gluten and dairy, prepares a spaghetti squash and ground beef dinner with her live-in boyfriend Mike Kelter at home in Victoria, B.C

It took some time before Ms. Ladouceur found someone she trusted enough “with her life.” But she eventually was able to start dating and to explain to potential dates the risks and precautions they needed to take. “The important thing for me was to express right at the very beginning what my allergies were, what could happen if I got in contact with peanuts or nuts or soy or anything that could trigger that life-threatening allergic reaction and to put all the cards on the table.”

To help other teens through their fears of dating, Ms. Ladouceur volunteers with Anaphylaxis Canada, one of the major organizations raising awareness about food allergies in Canada. She works with other young adults trying to spread awareness among teens. “A lot of the time having those conversations and sharing your own personal experiences is what is going to actually teach the teens the most. Most of the time they won’t listen to their parents (warnings).”

That’s why Ms. Ladouceur started her blog. “I thought it was another great medium to get through, hopefully, to some of these teens. I’ve had a really positive response.” And that response has come from several places in Canada and from other countries as well and not just from those with anaphylaxis. “I’ve even had friends who don’t have any allergies who have gone on my website to get a little insight into what it is to have allergies because they have other friends with allergies and they want to make them dinner and they don’t quite know how to go about it. So it’s been a great resource for people who don’t even have allergies but know someone who does.”

The website is a labour of love. Ms. Ladouceur runs it on a volunteer basis. But she is absolutely committed and promises that she will start another blog in French to provide information  in the other of Canada’s official languages.

More info: Why Risk It- A Site for Canadian Youth at Risk for Anaphylaxis
Living With Allergies
Anaphylaxis Canada
Allergy/Asthma Information Association

RCI's Lynn Desjardins spoke with Erika Ladouceur.
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