Emma Oliver reveals a story that’s very close to home as she investigates the extremely harmful allergic reaction anaphylaxis
New Year’s Eve didn’t quite turn out how it was planned. Sitting in A&E with my six-year-old daughter having steroids for an allergic reaction to peanuts, had definitely not been on the agenda. She only ate four, and then began to swell immediately, saying her lips felt funny and her throat hurt.
En route to A&E, as Esme began to cough and wheeze, I was just thankful to have administered anti-histamine. And to have left straight away. 20 minutes later at hospital, the steroids eventually calmed her hive-covered body, and after a few hours we were all able to leave: with an epi pen and a referral for blood and skin prick tests.
We’ve yet to discover the severity of Esme’s peanut allergy. The doctor thinks it is likely she will suffer with anaphylaxis, as this first reaction was both intense and immediate. Anaphylaxis will take some getting used to for all of us, but especially Esme. A peanut allergy is almost certainly for life, and of course she does not yet fully understand the implications, saying: “At least I get to go to the front of the dinner queue at school now Mummy.”
As for me, I’m suddenly checking all labels, and thinking outside the box as far as the bigger issue of cross contamination: no, you can’t have the sponge cake, even with the marzipan cut off. No, you can’t have a pastry, they’ve been next to peanut brittle. No, you can’t have ice cream even if it says nut free. The pistachio one beside it isn’t, and they’re using the same scoop. Endless scenarios have played out through my mind. And as for the potential trip to Thailand where everything is cooked in groundnut oil… good job the flights weren’t booked.
In many ways I’m not surprised. We are an atopic family. My dad reacts to aspirin and has asthma, while my mother-in-law has countless food allergies. Esme herself suffered with Cows’ Milk Allergy until she was two years old.
What’s shocking to me though, is that this reaction was totally unexpected. Esme has been eating peanuts since she was five. I waited until then to introduce them, carefully putting peanut butter on her arm and then lip, watching for a reaction that never came.
But on NYE, her body decided enough was enough. I’m just thankful I knew what to do, and could remain calm. I’m even more thankful, that there happened to be some anti-histamine in the cupboard.
NEED TO KNOW
Allergy is an adverse reaction produced by the body’s immune system when it encounters a normally harmless substance.
Here’s a list of the most common food allergens:
1. Cow’s milk
2. Chicken eggs
8. Tree nuts like hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashew and pistachio nuts
Symptoms of allergy include:
• Itchy mouth or throat
• Runny or blocked nose
• Sneezing and watery eyes
• Swelling of lips and face
• Nausea, vomiting, tummy cramps
Ways to manage food allergies:
• Elimination of problematic food
Anaphylaxis is different from other allergic reactions to food; it is an extreme form of allergic reaction and can cause swelling of the lips and tongue, trigger breathing problems, and loss of consciousness.
Typically, it occurs very suddenly and without warning. The symptoms get rapidly worse, and, without treatment, can cause death. This is because the body’s immune system responds to the allergen (not in itself harmful), in such a way that it fights it quite literally to the death. It is rare, and adrenaline injections can prevent it.
It is estimated that about half a million people in the UK have had an anaphylactic reaction to venom (bee or wasp stings), while almost a quarter of a million people have had anaphylaxis due to nuts.