Allergies – ‘A Modern Invention’……?

A little while ago I was approached by the Press Association who asked if I would be interested in article about the loss of my career in the Police Force. I thought long and hard, eventually coming to the conclusion that no matter how hard something is to talk about, sometimes you have to share your story in order for people to read and understand allergies a little more.  The whole purpose of the article was to increase allergy awareness, in particular to impress upon employers the dangers that allergies pose. 

The article Huffington Post  Daily Mirror (click on the links) was read by many, receiving a lot of positive feedback and support. Great….. or so I thought.  As with anything, you take the rough with the smooth, a few comments made me laugh (I wasn’t a PC for 15 years to not appreciate humour), some were infuriating and a couple reduced me to tears.  I was simply astounded by the ignorance of some people, the most ignorant stating that allergies were a ‘modern invention’.  Invention? I can assure you, there is nothing about your airway closing that is an invention! For anyone who has endured the pain and suffering of losing a loved one to anaphylaxis they too can assure you that anaphylaxis is sadly very real.  I’m sure you will agree it’s a truly terrifying experience.  In 15 years of policing I don’t mind admitting I attended some incidents that were scary situations to be in.  Yet peanuts, almonds and latex frighten me more.  The horrors of hives developing over your body, followed by an intense itching/swelling of the lips and tongue, the sheer panic when your airway begins to tighten, the inability to swallow and realisation that drawing in air is becoming impossible, the terrifying thought that this may be it, you may never see your loved ones again mixed with a sense of desperation, hoping, praying the emergency medication (epinephrine) is within easy reach and works effectively….. this is very real.  So to the ‘gentleman’ who believes anaphylaxis is a modern invention, I sincerely hope neither you or any of your loved ones ever experience this very real medical problem.  I would however urge you to take a look at the Anaphylaxis Campaign website for information, perhaps then you will come to understand more about this medical condition.



Reading the comments on the Huffington Post article made me realise that people’s attitudes to allergies have a more profound affect on me than the allergens themselves.  According to psychologist Guy Winch, people remember emotional pain more than physical pain.  This is said to be because emotional pain triggers memories, while physical pain does not (or not to the extent that emotional pain does).  I can certainly relate to this.  Sure when I’ve experienced a severe reaction at that time it’s caused a whole manner of problems; symptoms can last for days – days of haziness from too much antihistamine, steroids and feeling like I’ve run a marathon. However as the days pass, those feelings are soon forgotten.  What hurts most are people’s attitudes.  It’s these feelings that I remember, they are far more impactive overall.  Not so long ago I was in a supermarket and had purchased some flowers.  I noticed an elastic band at the bottom and asked a sales assistant if he could please remove the elastic band as I had a severe allergy to latex.  His response, “You so need to get over that phobia”.  Unusually for me, I was too shocked to speak! Over the years I have heard many a comment, here are just a few:

Restauranteur –  “People like you shouldn’t ever eat out, we haven’t got time to deal with you” 

Waitress in pizza restaurant – “Ah let them have a balloon you mean mum”,

Waiter in Indian Restaurant – “Well it’s not a problem if you have anaphylaxis, you’ve got your EpiPen right?’ 

Cabin Crew Supervisor – “It’s against people’s human rights to say they can’t eat peanuts on this flight”,

Doctor – “Anaphylaxis??? (Blank look on face)….. “You get itchy?” 

Acquaintance with vast medical knowledge – “You can eat it (offering a chocolate) just take the almond out!”  

If I had experienced so many ignorant comments, no doubt many more allergy sufferers had also.  These are just a selection from the responses of other allergy sufferers to my tweet, they are all worthy of following if you use Twitter as provide great advice and support in the allergy community:

Twitter allergy comments
I consider myself to be a fairly confident person, who during years of policing heard many an unsavoury comment. I am used to defending myself and speaking up for others, yet if I found these situations difficult what must others feel?  I had initially decided I was not going to respond to the comments on the Huffington Post article, after all there were many readers who had taken it upon themselves to defend me, many who didn’t even know me.  Those people will never know how much their support means.  I doubt any will ever read this, but I am truly thankful.  This is proof to me, as always, that its the majority who do understand, and its those people that will make a difference to allergy sufferers lives.  So to the minority who either do not understand allergies or simply happy posting their ignorant views, my mind said to ignore you but my heart over ruled.  This news article was about raising awareness. The post was shared many times via social media.  I, rather naively, did not expect such derogatory comments but hey Police Officers (serving or otherwise) usually take a lot of flack from some members of the public regardless of the situation, so f it caused a debate and stirred up emotions then in some respect I achieved what I set out to.

For the record when I was initially diagnosed with severe allergies, 11 years ago, I fought to continue my role as a front line Police Officer.  I actually was a Special constable (whilst I studied Law at University) for 5 years before I joined as a Regular.  I worked regularly with a shift 2-3 times a week for the entire duty on a voluntary basis.  I loved my job and the thought of being desk bound for the remainder of my career saddened me.  With strict risk assessments this medical problem could be managed.  Indeed it was for the next 10 years. I was very privileged to have served with a brilliant Force for many years. Sadly after the last episode of anaphylaxis the risks were too high; a front line role was no longer possible.  Unfortunately due to Theresa May’s new rulings, Police Officers who are not fit for frontline policing can no longer be sustained in the work force.  There was no option. For some, perhaps other roles could be suitable but sadly due to the nature of latex, found in many items (particularly contact with members of the public) and not just elastic bands, the chances of having anaphylaxis and dying were quite high!  ‘Work shy’ as one quoted, absolutely not!  Frightened of dying? Absolutely!  The bottom line is whether you understand the impact my allergy has on me is irrelevant.  I just hope in the future if you come across people with life threatening allergies you will show more compassion before making assumptions. If I could wind the clock back and still have my career I would be a very happy lady. The point I was simply trying to get across is that if one employer reads this article and ensures their employee with allergies is looked after properly, preventing anaphylaxis and even death, then some good would have come from this. Thank you to those of you who have been supportive, I appreciate your kind words.

Izzy and Ollie

 Most Aspirational Woman 2014 inspirationaward

About us

Izzy and Ollie is a new Children's Safety Education project which was inspired when 2 and a half year old Isabelle called an ambulance for her Mum when she experienced a life threatening allergic reaction. The incident made Joanne consider how wonderful it would be if all young children could be educated about emergency situations. To simply learn their full name, age and address as early as possible (as her 1st book illustrates) could be highly beneficial not only to themselves, but it could also contribute to help save other people’s life. The books follow characters Izzy and Ollie who find themselves entangled in various situations. They encompass Child Safety issues together with simple courses of action that children could learn and replicate should they ever find themselves in the same situation.

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