I have lived with life-threatening allergies my whole life.

I was diagnosed at 18-months old when I picked up half a peanut off the floor at a wedding (yes, disgusting, but I was greedy even then apparently!). My lips turned blue and I fell into a deep sleep. My parents took me to hospital and it was thought likely that I had Anaphylaxis (a severe form of allergy). I have carried two epipens ever since.

Over the years, my list of allergies has changed, but primarily I am currently allergic to all peanuts and tree nuts, as well as certain beans and seeds. I also have other food intolerances, hayfever and animal allergies. 

This week (June 5 to 11) has been World Allergy Week, and it has made me reflect on how the word has changed for people with Anaphylaxis, like myself.

Now, I want to say straight away that I count myself incredibly lucky. I have never had a severe, life-threatening reaction since my diagnosis and, over the years, have been able to add so many foods to my ‘safe’ list that I no longer feel very restricted at all. However, what I do experience is the anxiety and fear which comes with having an allergy, which I think is an element of the condition often overlooked.

When you think of a typical ‘fussy eater’, you may think of someone who is spoiled, or unwilling to try new things. What you may not think of is a person for whom food can cause real worry.

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Often, after eating something new, I start to wonder whether I can feel a tingle on my tongue, a scratch on my throat, an itch on my lip. Sometimes, it means a mild allergic reaction, cured by some antihistamine. Other times, it is simply a placebo effect, my mind playing tricks on me. Neither are nice.

I remember as a child feeling left out because I wasn’t allowed to have school dinners with my friends, because the kitchen didn’t want to risk giving me something I couldn’t have. I always had a different snack to everyone else at extra-curricular groups, often even if the item everyone was eating was something I knew I could have, but I was too young to communicate that to the group leaders. 

I remember being on holiday in France with my family, and every restaurant cooking with peanut oil. I ate a lot of bread and cheese that week! And later, at university, I remember going into a restaurant with a friend and sitting down, only to be asked to leave when the waiter came to take our order because ‘we can’t cater for allergies’.

Looking back, I so appreciate the caring people around me who were only trying to do their best to keep me safe, but that can be difficult to comprehend when you’re young. 

As a teenager, I started a fundraising and awareness campaign in my town for a charity called The Anaphylaxis Campaign, which had supported me growing up.

I was proud to raise some much-needed money for the cause, but also to have really great conversations with people around misconceptions of what allergies are. 

For example, while there is nothing wrong with making dietary choices for other reasons (lifestyle, ethics, religion, etcetera), it is important to understand that there are differences between something not fitting with that choice, and something being effectively poisonous to a person. All dietary needs are important, but they cannot always be approached in the same way.

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I also massively value trust when it comes to allergies. I trust that if I ask a question of a provider of food, I get an honest answer. But I also expect that person or place to respect and trust my word when I say that I cannot - and, often more importantly, can - eat something.

As an adult, who has long since moved away from the watchful eyes of my parents when it comes to food, I get a lot of pleasure out of food and eating out. It makes me happy that most restaurants now ask about allergies at point of service, have dedicated allergy menus, ingredients lists and apps, are used to dealing with allergy-suffers and never treat us as lesser. The world has come a long way.

But the risk and fear never fully goes away. Just a couple of months ago I experienced an allergic reaction when eating out with friends at a new place. 

So when someone says they have an allergy, please always take them seriously. The joy of food should be for everyone, and you might just save their life.

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