Friday, 7 November 2014

Survival guide for living with Anaphylaxis

In my future blogs I will be focusing on specific topics and concerns that people have relating to living with anaphylaxis however for the time being, here is an overall guide for helping to live life with anaphylaxis.

I have been suffering with allergies since I was very young and was formally diagnosed when I was 4 years old. When I was 16 years old, 4 years ago, I was diagnosed with anaphylaxis (severe allergic reactions) as well as more allergies.

When I was younger my mum noticed that I would continually come out in a really blotchy, itchy rash after eating anything containing red food colouring. After attending an allergist at the hospital and getting blood taken, although my blood results were fine for all major allergens I was diagnosed with an allergy to food colourings, in particular red food colourings. Growing up avoiding food colourings was not much of an issue for me as I quickly learned that if I ate anything with food colouring in it I would become extremely itchy. When I was 16 years old my mother gave me an ice-cream topped with hazelnuts to eat. Within 15 minutes of eating the ice-cream my skin began to become itchy, my face began to swell up, my throat felt like it was closing and my breathing became extremely difficult. After phoning NHS24 I was told I was suffering with the symptoms of anaphylaxis (Severe allergic reaction) and they would call me an ambulance. I luckily had an epi-pen in my house (an injection which contains the drug adrenaline which is one of the treatments for anaphylaxis). NHS24 gave me instructions on how to administer the epi-pen and after giving it within 15 minutes I began to feel better. However this is not always the case. Sometimes when someone suffers from anaphylaxis the adrenaline may not always work and therefore that is why sufferers of anaphylaxis are suggested to carry 2 epi-pens with them in order to give themselves a second shot of adrenaline should the first one not work or wear off. The paramedics and hospital staff can also give extra adrenaline if needed.

I take various medications to combat the symptoms of my allergies everyday. In the morning I take 2 anti-histamines tablets (desloratadine and fexofenadine) as well as a tablet which blocks the 2nd type of histamine (something which your body releases when you’re having an allergic reaction) called ranitidine. At night time I take 1 anti-histamine tablet (piriton) as well as a 2nd ranitidine tablet. I can take piriton up to 3 times a day so if I start to show any allergy symptoms throughout the day then I can take another tablet. I also have to carry about with me 2 epi-pens and a ventolin inhaler everywhere I go in case I suffer an anaphylactic reaction to something. The majority of the tablets I take do not have side effects but unfortunately piriton, epi-pens and ventolin inhalers do. Piriton can make you feel really drowsy and disorientated, something which I have found help me cope with the side effects is taking the tablet at night so I will sleep of the side effects. If you have to take it at school it is best to alert your teacher or school nurse that you are having to take it so they know that you may suffer these side effects. Epi-pens can make your heart rate speed up and can also make you feel really dizzy and agitated. The best way to get through these symptoms is to try and remain calm. An ambulance should always be phoned when someone takes an epi-pen as the person should at least be checked over by paramedics if not taken to hospital. Ventolin inhaler can make your heart rate speed up and can also cause you to have tremors (particularly in your hands). The best way to get through the symptoms is to remain calm and breathe as calmly as you possibly can.

Dealing with allergies and anaphylaxis on a daily basis can be really hard to start with but things get a lot easier with time. The main thing to be aware of is to check everything you eat. Particularly if you are suffering from a nut allergy, even things that you think may be safe may have cross contamination from it being made in the same factory as something else or using ingredients which contain nuts. The same goes for any allergens. On a lot of products it says if it contains any of the main 24 allergens however companies legally do not have to put this on their products so if you are ever in doubt do not consume it. You have to keep in mind that it is not just foods which may contain your allergens. Drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), cosmetic products, sun tan lotions etc. may all contain your allergen. Particularly where nuts are concerned a lot of cosmetic products can contain nut oil. It is a really good idea to research the name for the oil of nuts in order to avoid it in products.

The main symptoms of anaphylaxis are:
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pains
  • Swelling of the: face, hands, feet, genitals, tongue, throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stridor (extremely noisy breathing that sounds like snoring)
  • Wheezing (extremely high pitched breathing that typically occurs when breathing out)
  • Dizziness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Fearing that something bad is going to happen
  • Diarrhoea

This is not a complete list of all the symptoms but is a list of the main symptoms. Not everybody gets all of these symptoms. It is suggested that if 2 or more symptoms occur then an ambulance should be phoned and an epi-pen administered if available. It is also a good idea to call a family member or a friend to let them know what is happening so they are aware. Anaphylaxis can be a really scary thing to go through, particularly when you are alone, but the main thing is to try and stay calm and remember that when you phone the ambulance the paramedics are on their way and they are extremely good at dealing with this.

It is often very difficult to get those around you to understand that anaphylaxis is a very serious medical condition and that even being in the same room as your allergen can cause you to react. The best way to deal with this is let the person you are trying to explain it to know how it makes you feel. Explain to them what happens if you are exposed to your allergen and that it is a very life-threatening condition. There is a lot of information available online to help other people understand your anaphylaxis. You should let those closest to you know how to deal with an anaphylactic reaction if they should ever need to. You should ask your doctor for a trainer adrenaline pen in order to give family members, friends etc. an idea on how to use them and make them less nervous should they ever need to use one on you. Don’t let your allergies take over your life. There are a lot of things which you will be able to eat instead of the things you are allergic to. For example if you have a nut allergy and really like chocolate, keep in mind that not every chocolate carries a risk so there are still a lot of things you can eat. Allergies do not define you, they are something which unfortunately you have to learn to live with but they are not who you are as a person.

It is really important that you tell your area of either education or work about your allergies. Most schools have an allergy action plan and the appropriate people have been trained on how to deal with anaphylaxis. It would be a good idea to give your school some spare medication in case you were to ever forget yours or need yours in an emergency. When in college or University it is very different to school as there are a lot more people and you are not as close to your teachers. It is a good idea to alert the person responsible for your University/College’s first aid that you suffer from allergies and/or anaphylaxis to the things you have reactions to and instruct them on what to do should you suffer a reaction to something. When in a work environment it can be really difficult to get others to not bring in the allergen in which you are allergic to. Alert your manager to the fact you suffer with allergies and/or anaphylaxis and let them know what to do should you ever suffer a reaction to something. Be careful when others are eating around you and if something makes you feel uncomfortable be honest with the person about your allergies and let them know what they should not eat around you.

There are a few charities which I have found really have helped me when dealing with coming to terms with my allergies and anaphylaxis. The Anaphylaxis Campaign is the only UK based charity which supports those affected by severe food allergies and their loved ones. They provide information about living with anaphylaxis as well as product information regarding allergens. They also have a helpline in which you can phone to ask for any advice you may need regarding anaphylaxis. They have a facebook page where you can keep up to date with their latest news and ask questions on. Allergylifestyle is another website which has really helped me come to terms with things. They provide information on allergies as well as a store in which you can buy carrier cases for your medication which can really help make it a less daunting thing to have to carry about. For younger children they provide allergy stickers for lunch boxes during school to state they have a food allergy. The final charity which has been a great help to me has been Medic Alert. Medic Alert is a UK charity which provides medical jewellery to buy which you can engrave with whatever you feel necessary. With your order you also get a wallet card which has your health information (such as your name, next of kin, medical information) written on it to be used in an emergency. Medic Alert also have a 24 hour contact number where if you are found in an emergency medical professionals can phone them and gain access to your emergency medical information so they can give you the proper treatment. 

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