I have learnt many lessons since being diagnosed with severe allergies in 2004, in fact I am still learning 11 years on. Lack of understanding on my part was a huge problem initially. I can recall my allergies to almonds, peanuts and latex (natural rubber) being confirmed and my thoughts at the time were I’ll be fine if I don’t eat peanuts and almonds and I just won’t wear latex gloves at work anymore…… How naive was I!
I had always disliked peanuts, the smell alone of peanut butter made me nauseous, so peanuts were not going to be a problem. A lot of the skin and nail products I loved to use contained almonds – I think I overdosed on these in the first place! So they all had to go which was a shame as I love the almond fragrance. Easy. Job done! Perhaps not. Almonds are an ingredient found in a lot of cakes and desserts, they are also used in a lot of foreign cuisine. Ok so choices of foods may be an issue but on the bright side no cakes = great diet! Joking aside, I had not been given much information at the Immunology clinic so a I had to research a lot of information myself or learn from episodes of anaphylaxis. I have since learnt a considerable amount about food allergy and it is far more complex than I ever anticipated.
Latex was and continues to be my biggest nightmare. This was the allergy I considered less of a problem in comparison to the almonds and peanuts. Yet I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Latex appears everywhere, it is often hard to avoid (I will do a separate article about this) and subsequently I have experienced more episodes of anaphylaxis as a result of latex contact. These of course are harsh lessons to learn however I am very fortunate to still be here so if I could impart two main pieces of advice to any allergy sufferers it would be this:
1. Never be complacent
I am a confident outspoken person however I do not like to feel awkward. Allergies make me feel awkward. I just want to blend in like everyone else but this is not always possible. Everywhere I go I ask questions, questions that have to be explained, at great length as often people don’t understand allergies and the consequences of a severe allergy. When I usually say that I don’t want to die in their restaurant as it’s not good for business we usually laugh but I get my point across! To avoid these problems I usually telephone ahead and make enquiries. I personally feel that it’s not fair to just turn up anywhere and expect staff to assist at a moment’s notice. However sometimes this is not possible so I discreetly make my enquiries with a manager before being seated. Once I had established a place was safe to eat or drink I didn’t ask again. Complacency is a big mistake. On my birthday last year I met with a friend for a coffee at Starbucks. I had already made enquiries into latex gloves and established that Starbucks do not use them. I never asked again. As my son would say, “Epic Fail!’ My friend bought the coffees whilst I found somewhere to sit. This is how my birthday started and ended………
Enquiries made with Starbucks revealed that a member of staff (we had provided a description) had chosen not to wear the gloves provided by the company but to wear their own gloves. Unbeknown to me this had been latex. The friend who had bought the coffee had not even notice or considered it in all fairness. This taught me a very valuable lesson to ALWAYS ask about allergens no matter how familiar you are with the establishment.
2. Take your EpiPen with you everywhere
It doesn’t matter how careful you are, as I know only too well, despite your best efforts allergens can meet your path and anaphylaxis can occur (sadly I can give you many examples!) Your emergency medication is a lifeline and needs to be with you at all times. When I was first diagnosed, an incident occurred which I will never forget. En route to the gym, I drank a smoothie, placed my belongings in the locker and started a workout. Whilst on the treadmill I began to feel like my world was closing in around me, my mouth was itching intensely and before I knew it I had collapsed having anaphylaxis. Gym staff had raced to help but it was the quick thinking of Mark Daley the Health & Fitness Manager at The West Hants Club who helped save my life. Mark had completed my induction some weeks prior to this and recalled I had severe allergies. He knew I had an EpiPen but where was it? Fitness instructors grabbed my locker key and ran downstairs to my locker looking frantically for my medication. Thank goodness they run fast! An EpiPen was administered and Paramedics arrived. If Mark hadn’t have remembered, or hadn’t have been in the gym, what would have happened? What on earth was I thinking?
The fact of the matter was, that I hadn’t thought at all. The harsh reality is that I could have died. Thank goodness I had excellent care, I can’t thank Mark and his team enough. I was very fortunate on this occasion. This may not be the case another time. I sincerely hope that there will not be another time I have anaphylaxis without an EpiPen to hand. I carry 2 EpiPens with me at all times. So please, please, please, I urge you from the very bottom of my heart, ALWAYS take your emergency medication with you. The Anaphylaxis Campaign is an amazing charity who give help, advice and support people with allergies. They have made a fantastic video which I urge you to watch and never forget your EpiPen. Please share with anyone you know who has severe allergies. Thank you.