The West

Living with a life-threatening allergy can take an emotional toll on young people, with some suffering severe anxiety and having panic attacks.

"The long-term impact is often psychological anxiety for parents and that anxiety in turn might be transferred from parents to the young person," says Wendy Radcliffe, a specialist clinical psychologist at Princess Margaret Hospital.

She says young people living with anaphylaxis can experience resentment, anger, fear and denial, although their psychological experience will often depend on whether their first experience of anaphylaxis and hospital was mild or traumatic.

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To help young people cope, she says it's important to give them as much information as possible and help them make the leap of talking openly to others so they have a support network.

Psychologists also work to give young people a tool kit to help them manage their emotions, achieve a sense of normality, come up with a prevention plan, and understand their condition.

"As we know, knowledge is power," Ms Radcliffe says. "Often it's about having an emergency plan that they and the key people in their life know about. That can be quite reassuring."

She says the ultimate goal is to help young people gradually learn to self-manage their anaphylaxis so they're able to assess situations for risk and know what to do. Different children achieve this at different times depending on their temperament and level of maturity.

In the meantime, parents and clinicians walk a fine line between getting young people to understand the seriousness of their condition and causing them to become stressed and anxious about the possibility of dying.

"Anaphylaxis is potentially life-threatening for people of all ages but young people are disproportionately at increased risk for death," Ms Radcliffe says. "They need to be effectively supported for their risk-taking behaviours and their understanding.

"It's balancing their quality of life and being able to get on with what they need to do without having to feel like they're living in a bubble and they can't go out and experience things. They just want to be like everyone else - the last thing they want to feel is different."

She says parents should understand that it's natural for teenagers to forget things and that it takes time to develop independence.

"I think the hardest thing is for parents to be able to acknowledge that and to understand that young people will come to terms with their illness in their own way. It's about being able to let go."

· Princess Margaret Hospital's Child and Adolescent Health Service is currently evaluating the results of focus groups conducted with adolescents in February to gauge their experience with allergies and their thoughts on educating other teens and the wider community about anaphylaxis.

The West Australian

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