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Opinion: Living with rare anaphylaxis as an adult

It's not funny, despite what you may have seen in the movies
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Thanks to Sabrina’s law all schools in Ontario must have a plan in place to address anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergy. Consequently, most people now have some idea about peanut allergy and that people with anaphylaxis to peanut can be triggered by amounts too small to be seen by the human eye.

As a result, over the last few years I’ve seen much more awareness of allergies and more and more restaurants are accommodating allergies with relative ease. Which is great news for those of us with allergies generally.

Just eight foods (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts), fish (such as bass, cod, flounder), shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp), soy & wheat) are responsible for 90 per cent of all allergies. 

Unfortunately, I have a very rare anaphylaxis – citrus. To make it more difficult, like those with peanut allergies, I am extremely sensitive to the tiniest amounts and worse still it’s an airborne allergy.

That means that I can have a reaction from simply being in the same space as a citrus product. A year ago, I had a massive anaphylaxis reaction to a citrus cleaning spray being used near me. Since then I developed Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome (RADS) which means that I am now hyper-sensitive to my known allergens and have difficulties with scents generally.

As a result, I now spend a great deal of time at home, in my safe space which has none of my allergens allowed in and a high-grade air purifier running all the time.

However, it’s impossible to live as a total recluse and from time to time I venture out. Initially I was too scared to go anywhere and had become so unfit that walking for more than three minutes was too much.

Thankfully, one of my doctors referred me to the Cardiac and COPD Rehabilitation program run by the Group Health Centre at the Sault College Gym. Through their support, I built up my stamina and tolerance but more importantly also built up my confidence.

Which is how I was able to attend the dog show recently

However, I must always be hyper-alert for possible allergens.

People walk by with breakfast from a local fast food restaurant, is that coffee or orange juice?

Living with a rare anaphylaxis as an adult is like living in a war zone. Every venture outside my safe zone (my home) is a risk. I do everything that I can to mitigate that risk but I still need to live some form of a life. 

The hardest part is when other people find it funny. I live in fear of somebody playing a prank on me as I’ve heard of others suffering.

Unfortunately, movies like ‘Hitched’ which made severe allergies seem funny don’t help. It takes away from the seriousness and life threatening nature of such severe allergies.

Simply, without my Epi Pens I can be dead within 20 minutes of exposure. 20 minutes!

That’s not long enough for an ambulance to be called and arrive!

So please, please, if somebody tells you that they have anaphylaxis – take it seriously and help them protect their life.

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About the Author: Nikki Shaw

Nikki Shaw is an adult immigrant to Canada, from England; having published academically since the 1990s she is now enjoying the luxury of freelance journalism.
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