If anyone knows about food allergy and anaphylaxis it is our good friend Ruth Holroyd, she of the What Allergy? blog and long time judge at both the FreeFrom Food Awards and the FreeFrom Skincare Awards.
Ruth says that she has now lost count of how many times she has had anaphylactic reactions but on over 30 occasions she has been close to or actually has administered adrenaline, on 10 occasions she has been hospitalised and in the last couple of years she has had two near death experiences.
But, while she has refused to let her allergies win Ruth’s determination to live a full and busy life despite them has come at a cost. Not just a practical cost in terms of the hours that she has to spend planning every outing, scrutininsing labels when she shops and emailing and phoning restaurants and cafés if she wants to eat out. But a psychological cost – an aspect of food allergy that has been largely overlooked till now. Living with the constant awareness that the sandwich you eat for lunch could kill you – or could kill your child if you are an allergy parent – is deeply stressful and scary and can make living successfully with serious allergies extremely challenging.
It was Ruth’s second near death experience in two years that finally showed her that, although she might be able to cope with the practicalities, she could no longer cope with the mental health fallout of living at death’s door. A series of apparently unrelated panic attacks prompted her first to seek psychological help – and then to write this book.
So while the book is most definitely a practical guide to living a full and active life with life threatening allergies, it is also a guide to recognising how such a life can impact on your mental health and how to manage that secondary but equally disabling challenge.
The introduction to the book is, effectively, Ruth’s story – from her childhood in the 1970s when allergy was all but unknown through to her most recent near death experience. Yet again, despite discussion with the kitchen and constant reassurance that the dish she was being given was milk free, it was not. And yet again, only the prompt actions of her friends in getting emergency help, saved her life.
From then on in, it is all practical – a primer on how to live with life threatening allergies.
Understanding your allergy and what you should do about it
- Understanding how serious the condition is but keeping it in perspective – you are more likely to be murdered than to die from anaphylactic shock.
- How to recognise that you are having an attack.
- What to do if you are.
- How to get a diagnosis.
- How to minimise the risk of having a reaction and how to minimise the severity of that reaction.
- Making and managing an ‘action plan’.
- Using adrenaline injectors.
Living with severe allergies and anaphylaxis
- Shopping and cooking.
- To ban – or not to ban – allergens in your home.
- Surviving at work.
- Dealing with bullying.
- Eating out and holidaying.
- Managing family and friends.
The psychological impact of living with anaphylaxis
- Recognising the psychological effect that living with anaphylaxis can have on both you and your family – or your child if you are dealing with a child with severe allergies.
- Getting help – where to ask for help and what kind of help may work for you.
- Ruth’s own journey through therapy – what worked and what didn’t work for her.
- Contributions from two psychologists working in the area of food allergy, looking at how it can impact on the individual’s quality of life and how best to manage the anxiety that comes with an anaphylaxis potential.
Resources and contributors
- Self help and support groups.
- Books, cookbooks, podcasts, blogs, apps.
- Research, scientific papers.
- Contributors – not only the psychologists but contributions from other allergy experts and allergy sufferers.
An essential guide for anyone attempting to come to terms with – and live positively with – life threatening allergies. As one reviewer said on Amazon:
This is a absolutely brilliant and practical guide to dealing with the many aspects of allergy suffering. Honestly written with humour and care, this book is beautifully set out making it an easy and useful book to read and navigate!
The Reluctant Allergy Expert is available both as an e-book (£6.99) and a print book (£10.50) from Amazon here.
I had scarcely posted this blog when I saw a post from Ruth on WhatAllergy? about the inquest into the death of a 14 year old boy who had gone into anaphylactic attack after eating popcorn in the cinema. As she points out – so many things were done wrong– not with any malign intent but out of sheer ignorance. So many things – and if only one had been done right, he might have survived.
Which is why books such as Ruth’s are SO important….. Only you can keep yourself safe – so learn how to do so.