Life-threatening food allergies

Posted on: Thu, 05/13/2004 - 9:34am
lisa from Australia's picture
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Joined: 04/02/2002 - 09:00

Excellent story on one of our local current affairs programs last night. Transcript of story can be found at todaytonight.com.au then follow the links to the story line.

Posted on: Fri, 05/14/2004 - 3:06pm
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Joined: 08/02/2002 - 09:00

[url="http://www.todaytonight.com.au/stories/920344.html"]http://www.todaytonight.com.au/stories/920344.html[/url]
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[b]Life-threatening food allergies[/b]
REPORTER: Michelle Tapper
BROADCAST DATE: May 13, 2004
Every year around 20 Australians die from anaphylactic shock - where the body shuts down in reaction to a food allergy - and avoiding death for those vulnerable to this condition is a case of vigilantly watching what they eat and come in contact with.
Feeding four-year-old Max is a juggling act for Rebecca Williams. One slip could be fatal.
"Max is allergic to peanuts, eggs, milk and wheat and those four foods will kill him if he eats them," Rebecca said.
It is a terrifying daily occurrence for this mother of three to think that a simple every day food could kill her child.
"A visit to the parks not that easy because someone yells 'ok, who wants a peanut butter sandwich?' and that's a fatal combination," Rebecca said.
Max's allergy is so severe even the smell of nuts or a bakery can trigger an extreme reaction.
He is so allergic to peanuts he'll react to the smell of them, but thankfully he hasn't had a reaction yet. If he does, he could lapse into a coma and die.
Around the home Rebecca has no choice but to be vigilant because it could mean the difference between life and death for her son.
Max has to sit in a separate area to his siblings to ensure there's no cross-contamination of foods and the Williams family even has a separate dishwasher and separate shelf in the fridge and pantry to cater for him.
Allergy expert Dr Velencia Soutter says peanut allergies have doubled in the last five years and now approximately one in 50 pre-school children have a peanut allergy - largely the result of genetic inheritance or being exposed to the food at a young age.
"It's a life-changing event when you discover that your child has a peanut allergy 'cause no longer is there freedom to buy food as you did before, everything has to be checked," Dr Soutter said.
"We know peanut particles come through breast milk and we know babies are exposed to a lot of food that their mothers are eating just because there's food on fingers."
Every year around 20 people die from anaphylactic shock, which is where the body shuts down in reaction to a food allergy. The most severe is the peanut allergy.
Twenty-year-old Jade Batty also suffers from life-threatening allergies to nuts and seafood.
"The reactions I experience are tightening of the windpipe, so I have difficulty breathing which can actually be life-threatening," Jade said. "I also get swelling of the face, a really itchy mouth and also swelling of the lips."
"If I go to a sandwich bar I have to make sure that if they've got something I'm allergic to that it's not too close to the food I'm eating and I get them to use fresh tongs and a clean knife to cut the sandwich."
Jade had her first food reaction at four, but it wasn't until she was 12 that she was properly diagnosed and since then she's had to watch what she eats.
"I don't eat out a lot. I only go to one restaurant where they know me and they can cater for my needs and I usually take food from home everywhere," Jade said.
As for little Max, he can't go anywhere, not even to pre-school without an epi-pen - a shot of adrenalin which could save his life in case he comes in contact of any foods he is allergic to.
Director of KU pre-school Linda Page spent three weeks decontaminating her kindy and asking parents not to send their children to school with peanut or egg sandwiches so Max's health wouldn't be at risk.
"All the staff have had Anaphalaxis training, so we all knew how to help Max in an emergency and it will also help us know what will trigger a response in Max," Linda said.
"We've got rid of our egg, milk and ice cream containers and replaced them with all new products for the children to use. We've also replaced playdough with clay."
Although every day is a challenge, Rebecca Williams wants her son to have as normal a life as possible.
"They say he should outgrow everything, but peanuts and the fish. There is a small chance he will outgrow the peanuts. I'm hoping they will come up with a cure for it."
POINTS OF INTEREST:
[list][*]The most severe allergic reactions can be fatal within minutes unless treated correctly and promptly.[/*:m][*]Individuals aged 10-19 years are at highest risk of fatality from food allergies.[/*:m][*]It is estimated up to 20 Australians die each year from anaphylaxis.[/*:m][*]In teenagers, the deadly allergic reaction anaphylaxis, is probably due to unsupervised high risk behaviours, a reluctance to carry or be seen to use medication, their need to fit in with their peers and a lack of regular specialist follow up.[/*:m][*]Dramatic new evidence shows that peanut and tree nut allergy have doubled in the last 5 years.[/*:m][*]There is currently no cure for food allergy. And according to NSW health, up to four in every 500 children are at risk of a life-threatening allergic reaction.[/*:m][/list:u]
For more information on allergies, visit the Anaphylaxis Australia Inc. website - [url="http://www.allergyfacts.org.au"]www.allergyfacts.org.au[/url] or phone: 1300 728 000.
For more information on the clinical immunology of allergies, visit the website for the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy - [url="http://www.allergy.org.au"]www.allergy.org.au[/url]

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