Picture this scenario:
It's midweek and a few friends are discussing going for a meal and some drinks on Friday evening.
People without a food allergy will most likely have the following thoughts:
'Great, what shall I wear? What time are we all meeting? Where shall we eat? The list is endless'...
People with a food allergy will most likely have the following thoughts:
'Will I be able to eat at the chosen restaurant? What oils do they use? Will the group mind changing location if I can't eat there? What if someone next to me eats something I'm allergic to? What if there are nuts at the bar? Will people around me know what to do I have a reaction? Will they know how to use the Epipen? Shall I just cancel?'
A simple outing can cause individuals living with food allergies and anaphylaxis a great deal of stress and anxiety.
To this day, many people are unaware of the dangers of anaphylaxis or what it really is. The Anaphylaxis Campaign define it to be:
Anaphylaxis is an extreme and severe allergic reaction. The whole body is affected, often within minutes of exposure to the substance which causes the allergic reaction (allergen) but sometimes after hours.
In addition, The Anaphylaxis Campaign highlight the 14 major allergens that have the potential to induce an anaphylactic reaction:
celery, cereals that contain gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphur dioxide.
I remember my first anaphylactic reaction and it haunts me to this day. As a nut allergy sufferer I am limited to what Indian sweets I can have as nearly all of them contain some type of nut. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and made a sweet dish myself. I have to be honest, I felt quite accomplished that I had managed to make the dish without burning my mother's kitchen down! Anyway - I added a layer of chocolate on to the sweet dish to top it off - I used a chocolate I had been eating for years, so I thought I'd be okay with the ingredients and didn't think to check (rookie mistake - ALWAYS check) and of course that chocolate had hazelnut - which I now know I am severely allergic to!
Within minutes of eating this sweet dish, I felt a horrible knot forming in my throat, coupled with a wheeze and cough that didn't seem to want to subside. I could feel my lips starting to swell and my skin began to itch. I had no idea what was happening to me, all I remember was not being able to breathe and my sister running towards me with an Epipen. A paramedic had arrived in minutes who managed to stabilise my breathing although my heart rate remained racing. I was taken off to the hospital where I spent hours in the high dependency unit just in case the reaction came back!
That day was a learning curve for me and those around me. The feeling of not being able to breathe is the worst feeling I have ever experienced in my life.
As a result of that day, I now find myself being cautious over what I eat, what products I use on my body, the companies I travel with and what those around me eat. Now, those who are yet to meet someone living with anaphylaxis may be thinking 'oh what an over-reaction, you can't possibly be that bad, it must all be in your head'...
Truth be told, it is that bad. Living with anaphylaxis is life changing. It's life changing for the person involved, but those around them too!
Just because anaphylaxis can't be seen, it doesn't mean it's not there. Just because it can't been seen people don't know enough about it! To give you some perspective;
- Over 150 Million Europeans experience chronic allergic diseases, with the prediction that by the year 2025, half of the entire EU population will be affected (EAACI, 2016).
- The UK has the highest prevalence rates of allergic conditions in the world with over 20% of the UK population experiencing 1 or more allergic disorder (Levy, 2004).
- Between the years of 1992 - 2012 there was a 618% increase in the rate of anaphylaxis in the UK (Turner, 2015).
- 11-26 Million Europeans are estimated to suffer with food allergies. If this was to be projected into the world's population of 7bn, there would be 240-550 Million food allergic people (Pawankar et al., 2013).
(Stats taken from Allergyuk.org)
Anaphylaxis and food allergies are common!
Remember anaphylaxis can also occur through latex, medicines, general anaesthetic as well as insect stings.
If someone around you starts to show symptoms of anaphylactic shock call 999 immediately and inform the operator the person maybe having an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylaxis usually develops suddenly and gets worse very quickly.
The symptoms include:
* feeling lightheaded or faint
* breathing difficulties - such as fast, shallow breathing
* a fast heartbeat
* clammy skin
* confusion and anxiety
* collapsing or losing consciousness
There may also be other allergy symptoms, including an itchy, raised rash (hives), feeling or being sick, swelling (angioedema), or stomach pain.
(Symptoms taken from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Anaphylaxis/Pages/Introduction.aspx#symptoms)