APART from my irrational loathing – bordering on terror – for Brussels sprouts, anchovies, poached eggs and tapioca pudding, the food on my dinner plate usually plays a very satisfying and fulfilling role in my life.
Even though I have a seemingly incurable sweet tooth, especially when it comes to chocolate, cream cakes and sticky toffee pudding (phwoaah!), there are many other foodstuffs which hold a magical and irresistible lure which I cannot easily explain or ignore, and so it is that I generally keep a close watch on my daily calorie intake, usually avoiding things I like in favour of foods that I deem are good for me. Until now.
My reassuring ability to eat anything I want came crashing down in January when, completely out of the blue, and for the first time in my life, I suffered an angioedema. It was followed by another in July. On both occasions my symptoms were a sudden tingling sensation in my tongue followed by abrupt and pronounced swelling, swallowing difficulties and face distortions. I was in shock: would my breathing suddenly become affected too? I was taken to hospital.
According to NHS Choices, an angioedema is often the result of an allergic reaction, “where the body mistakes a harmless substance, such as a certain food, for something dangerous. It releases chemicals into the body to attack the substance, which cause the skin to swell.”
The condition can be triggered by an allergic reaction to certain types of food – particularly nuts, shellfish, milk and eggs, as well as some types of medication, including some antibiotics and aspirin. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, as well as insect bites and wasp and bee stings are also well known triggers, the website reveals.
In January and July, with my distorted face and swollen mouth, I received urgent outpatient treatments at an NHS accident and emergency unit. Principally this involved having an antihistamine jab and some reassuring words from staff. However, neither of the doctors who treated me on the two separate occasions were able to proffer definitive reasons for my two episodes. So I returned home frustrated by an inconclusive assessment and strict instructions to avoid a range of foods.
Logically, the next step for anybody who has suffered an angioedema is to ensure they quickly undergo as many allergy tests as possible in a bid to uncover the trigger. This is not possible under the NHS, from which I discovered that the average waiting list for an allergy test is currently at least more than FOUR MONTHS and getting worse.
A recent BBC News Online story revealed the number of hospital admissions for allergic reactions and anaphylactic shocks in England has soared by more than a third in the past five years, with data from NHS Digital showing there were 29,544 hospital admissions for allergic reactions in 2015-16. That compares to 22,206 admissions in 2011-12.
This means, like me, there are a growing numbers of walking, ticking time-bombs in the UK – people who do not know what they are allergic to – whilst all the while they are on the cusp of being hospitalised, or worse, losing their lives because the health service cannot cope with the surge in demand for this type of testing.
Barring keeping about one’s person a handy packet of Piriton – an over-the-counter drug that relieves the symptoms of allergic conditions including hay fever, nettle rash, food allergies and reactions to insect bites or medicines – there is not much else that can be done without being assessed by an allergist.
Ironically, other preventative measures, such as using a life-saving auto-injector Epipen® – an injection which contains a dose of adrenaline – naturally requires the owner and administerer of the device to receive training from a medical professional – at an NHS allergy clinic on the same lengthy waiting list.
For allergy sufferers, especially those who may have no other financial option, it is a precarious wait for treatment which, in the end, may not even discover the cause of their allergic reaction.
My research raises a number of questions: Why are there so many more instances of allergic reactions today? Are we becoming more susceptible to developing allergies? Are our immune systems generally becoming weaker? Are health services sufficiently up to speed with this worrying trend?
In the UK, about 10 people die every year from food-induced anaphylaxis, reveals the Foods Standards Agency. There are also about 1,500 asthma deaths, some of which might be triggered by a food allergy.
“Many of those who die or suffer ‘near miss’ reactions had no idea that they were even at risk,” the agency warns.
It seems obvious to me that establishing an efficiently managed, simple assessment process, where at least 70 per cent of the possible causes of an allergic reaction can be quickly ruled out, would prevent loss of life and save untold thousands of NHS pounds on treating sufferers in accident and emergency units around the country.
That’s why I am sending this article directly to the Department of Health. I am not holding my breath for a quick, acceptable, non-allergic reaction.
This post appeared in the Huffington Post.