Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Hold nothing back: Living with life-threatening allergies

Liam Wood refuses to let his numerous allergies hold him back. Photo / Janna Dixon
Liam Wood refuses to let his numerous allergies hold him back. Photo / Janna Dixon

Liam Wood is an inspiring teen embracing everything in life, from playing basketball, hockey and the bass guitar, to being a peer mediator at Auckland's Liston College.

The 16-year-old 1.88m student lets nothing hold him back in life, despite having anaphylactic allergies to dairy, eggs, all nuts, shellfish and fish. He is also allergic to potatoes, tomatoes, buckwheat, pork, spices, preservatives, food colouring, latex, melon, pineapple, banana, kiwi fruit, oranges, lemons, soy, cats, cleaning products, soap, shampoo and dust mites. Plus he has asthma and eczema.

Liam's allergies are not minor; they are potentially life threatening. If exposed to any of the above, he can suffer from his body bubbling with blisters to rashes or his lips turning blue and not being able to breathe. It is a position he has been in since he was 6-months-old and first went on to solids - he was given apple and this resulted in him looking like he had chicken pox.

But Liam insists he lives a normal life and says, "I just do not eat what I can't have".

His mum Yvonne Wood says her youngest of two sons lives normally because he has learned to manage his condition so he can avoid hospital and do everything he wants to do. This includes having his own cooking pans, so they do not have a hint of a food that could harm him, and making sure he does not eat after playing basketball until he has thoroughly washed his hands, in case anyone has eaten something he is allergic to and transferred it on to the ball. Friends, family and his teachers all know how to access an epi-pen if it's needed to save his life and they know to take care with food around him.

Yvonne says Liam has learned to be "really disciplined and totally organised" with food and thus everything in his life.

His health conditions have also resulted in him having "immense empathy" for others who face hurdles in life.

Liam says he has simply "the best parents".

His mum, and dad Ian, equally share all the special cooking and baking he needs. Liam is among an estimated one in 10 children in New Zealand who is estimated to have a food allergy and an increasing number of those affected have multiple food and/or environmental allergies andasthma.

This week is Allergy Awareness Week (May 20-26) and the national charity Allergy New Zealand is keen to highlight the increasing prevalence of allergies.

Dr Rohan Ameratunga, an adult and paediatric allergy specialist and clinical immunologist, says more research is crucial to understanding why allergies afflict so many. But in today's economic climate, funding for such Kiwi research remains tough to get.

There is no cure for allergies and complete avoidance of a particular allergen is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction.

The doctor says there are some theories why allergies exist, such as society being too clean and children not being exposed to enough bacteria, to changing diets, to people not getting enough exposure to vitamin D and to increasing environmental pollutants. The doctor says Kiwis need to have empathy for those who suffer from allergies - and not think sufferers are just fussy with food.

"It's important to put yourself in the shoes of the child, or the parents trying desperately to keep their child safe," he says.

He says the most common allergies are linked to eggs, milk, peanuts, wheat, and soy, while as people got older shellfish and tree nuts could be included.

For children, eczema commonly starts on the face and diaper area and if it persists to later life, it can end up on places such as the elbows, knees, palms and soles. Ameratunga says if anyone suspects an allergy they should see a GP and will likely have a scratch or blood test to discover what they are allergic to.

Top five ways to get your kids to eat more veges:

1. Dress it up: Make a face with peas for eyes, a cherry tomato for a nose, red pepper for a mouth and mashed potato for hair. Make vegetables fun.

2. Blind them with science: The science of taste suggests 10 tastes is all it takes to like a new food; tell your kids: "You don't have to eat it, you just have to try it."

3. Try their patience: Offer the same vegetable in different ways - blanched, fried, raw, with sauce, without sauce - they are bound to like one of them eventually.

4. Make it juicy: Add a few vegetables when you're making fresh fruit juice, such as cucumber and celery to apple juice.

5. If all else fails, get sneaky: Hide vegetables in foods they like, such as chocolate cupcakes with added mashed broccoli or cauliflower, or meatloaf with grated carrot.

Food matters

* See allergy.org.nz for information or to financially support the charity.

* Join Allergy New Zealand on facebook.com/allergy.nz and online allergy support groups.

* Anyone can register to attend a Food Monsters seminar at the Parenting Place, 300 Great South Rd, Greenlane, Auckland, on May 26. Register through allergy.org.nz. The seminar is for parents of children who are restricted in what they can eat.

- Herald on Sunday

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