Food allergy

Alexis Manning has a peanut allergy.

Alexis Manning has a peanut allergy.

"I first found out that I was allergic to peanuts as a child. Some sweets just tasted bad and made my lips swell a bit, and it didn’t take long to work out the cause. I didn't have testing at the time because peanut allergies weren't very common, and it didn't seem too severe. I avoided peanuts, but the reactions got worse.

"I had my first anaphylactic reaction when I was 18, while eating a salad that contained things that looked like baked beans, but were actually peanuts. I ate one of these – the most peanut I'd ever had at one time, I think – and immediately knew something was very wrong. Within minutes, my face swelled up. My skin felt tight, I couldn't close my eyes, I couldn't hear properly and, worst of all, I couldn't breathe.

"I was lucky that the nearest hospital was only 10 minutes away. After they gave me several injections of adrenaline, medical staff were able to bring my reaction under control. I was given some EpiPens and sent on my way.

"Since then, I've been exceptionally careful about what I eat. Food labelling has improved markedly in recent years, but many foods still seem to have 'may contain' warnings that seem unlikely. For example, I've seen fish, red cabbage and sour cream all marked with 'may contain peanuts'.

"I also make sure I carry a couple of EpiPens with me at all times, but have never had to use them because I'm very, very careful. It can be socially awkward. I've had to give up eating out after being caught out on more than one occasion at restaurants where the language barrier was an issue. Also, I find it generally less stressful if I simply don't eat anything I haven't prepared myself. People who know me accept this, but others find it a bit odd if everyone's sitting down to a meal and I'm there with an empty plate not eating. 

"I consider myself lucky, odd though it might sound. Some people experience anaphylactic reactions early in childhood, but I only had to deal with it when I was old enough to look after myself. I have a lot of sympathy for parents who have to manage young children with severe food allergies.

"My advice for people newly diagnosed with a peanut allergy is not to panic. Initially, it seems like you can't eat anything, but food labelling has improved massively over the last few years, so being vigilant has become easier."

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