Living with deadly food allergies

By Solbin Kang

When Lara Baker is exposed to beef, nuts, shellfish and dairy, she knows straight away what will happen to her body.

She gets a lump in her throat and within minutes she struggles to breathe and she needs to immediately inject herself with adrenaline.

Ms Baker, 20, suffers from anaphylaxis - a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction.

She's had the food-related allergies since she was 2 years old. "This is normal for me, it's my life."

This is Allergy NZ's Anaphylaxis Awareness Week - bringing attention to the increasing prevalence of serious allergies in New Zealand.

Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially fatal reaction to a particular allergen, whether it is food, medicine, an insect sting or latex.

Food is the most common cause of anaphylaxis in New Zealand children, and drugs and bee and wasp venom are the most common causes in adults.

Ms Baker, a Wellington Massey University student, said she had been hospitalised multiple times due to anaphylaxis.

The most recent occasion was two years ago, during her first year of university in Wellington at a hall of residence.

"They made the food for you and even if they knew well in advance and they knew I would turn up every day, sometimes they just forgot [about her allergies]."

The nursing student knew within minutes she was having an anaphylactic reaction.

"My blood pressure drops quite a lot and I get dizzy, tired and sloppy."

She injected herself with an EpiPen - an auto-injector adrenaline boost - and was rushed to hospital.

Now, she cooks her own food at her flat, which she shares with two other people. One has a severe nut allergy.

Ms Baker said she usually ate out only at familiar places. While it was difficult at times, there were quite a few restaurants in Wellington that were allergy-friendly.

"I generally go for Asian restaurants because food there generally doesn't have a lot of dairy.

"Then I ask if it has beef, nuts or shellfish. Nuts are a well-known allergy [problem], so it's easy."

Ms Baker said things had been much tougher when she was young, "because there were more food-related events like shared lunches and birthday parties".

She said anaphylactic reactions were "much more normalised" now.

"More people know about it and it's not a weird out-there thing any more."

Allergy New Zealand chief executive Mark Dixon said there was a lack of financial support for people living with food allergies.

"There has been a reduction in the level of support given to schools by public health nurses, and there is little or no guidance from or co-ordination between the Ministries of Health and Education.

"It can be very hard, and expensive, for families to find appropriate childcare centres and schools, which can often add to the already large cost of living with allergies."

This included general medical expenses, specialist visits, special diets and EpiPens.

- NZ Herald

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