Having a severe allergy is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job, and in most cases – including mine – it’s a job you have for life. You have to think about it every time you eat, drink or use a cosmetic product. You have to be prepared and aware at all times. No exceptions.
All this might sound a little dramatic, but the reality is that having an allergy means you live every day with a literal life or death fear.
I do remember a life before checking labels, carrying medication and all the other anxieties that go with allergies. I was almost 9 when I was diagnosed, on 25 October 2007, so it has now been 12 years of having my peanut allergy.
I was retested in 2016 to see if I was one of the lucky ones who had grown out of their allergy, and to get a clearer idea of the severity and the specifics of my allergy. They told me I had an “off the scale” peanut allergy so I wouldn’t be able to tolerate peanut in any form or amount.
Since it’s a severe allergy, I have to take a variety of different medications everywhere, and I never leave the house without all my medication. They even come with me to the corner shop.
I have Adrenaline Auto-Injectors, a medical device designed to deliver a specific dose of a particular drug – in my case adrenaline. These are prescribed to people with allergies who are at risk of a severe reaction known as anaphylaxis. There are 3 main UK brands who produce Adrenaline Auto-Injectors, and they all need to be prescribed by a GP or allergy specialist. The dose you are prescribed depends on your age and weight.
Every device is different, but they are purposely easy to use – the idea is that I could self-administer the autoinjector in an emergency if necessary. When anaphylaxis occurs there won’t be time to waste, so I’d really encourage everyone to educate themselves around the use of Auto-Injectors, just in case you are ever in the situation where you need to help someone having an allergic reaction. It could save their life. For the basics, the NHS website provides information on the steps you should take and specific information in relation to each brand of Auto-Injectors.
I always carry 2 with me, and they are quite large and awkward to carry, but I do need to carry both – 1 to use in the first instance of an allergic reaction, and the second to be used by emergency services or in the case the allergic reaction doesn’t subside after the first dose.
I have to stay up to date with the guidelines on how to use the Auto-Injectors, as they sometimes change. I am responsible for knowing that these changes are made, and for teaching and reminding those around me how they should be used.
But even getting the medication can be a challenge in itself – Auto-Injectors have an expiration date and recently there was a nationwide shortage of them, meaning those with allergies couldn’t get hold of the lifesaving medication that they needed. I myself had this issue before a recent holiday, spending an entire weekend going around various pharmacies looking for medication. In the end it took several trips to my GP asking for prescriptions for different brands, and finally a visit to my local walk-in centre to again have the prescription changed to the one brand I did find. It was extremely stressful knowing I could possibly be without lifesaving medication and these issues are unfortunately an increasingly regular occurrence.
Piriton (Chlorphenamine Maleate) is something else I need to constantly keep about my person, normally in the tablet form, as it’s easier when I’m already carrying two Adrenaline Auto-Injectors. Piriton has quite literally saved me a few times and is as important to me as the Auto-Injector.
Finally, like many allergen sufferers, I’m also asthmatic and so I carry a Ventolin Evohaler at all times since in the case of an allergic reaction, I am likely to have worsened asthmatic symptoms.
This is an example of photographs I have on my phone when I want to remember a particular product or so I can remember a brand name and do some research before purchasing.
Those are just the basic starting points for someone with a severe allergy, but the lifestyle implications go far beyond that. Many people without an allergy take for granted going out and eating and drinking what they like without thinking or worrying. And I think it’s this level of not truly understanding what it’s like for sufferers is what causes companies and people to make mistakes when it comes to catering for us. The reality is that as an allergen sufferer, you are often putting your life in the hands of someone else. You have to trust people and companies to be careful and responsible. Through these diaries I hope to raise awareness about the dangers and issues people like me face, and encourage those in the foodservice industry to come up with solutions.
Next time on Beth’s Blog: As we head into Christmas party season, Beth tells us what it’s like for a person with a severe allergen to eat out.