THE impact of allergies on people’s lives can vary from the discomfort of hay fever to the tragic loss of a loved one due to anaphylactic shock.
This week is Allergy Awareness Week and experts are tackling the misuse of hay fever medication.
But the awareness week is also a time to remember those who have fallen victim to the potentially fatal effects of an allergy.
Ged and Marianne Heywood lost their son Phillip in 2004 after he died from an allergic reaction to a takeaway curry.
The 19-year-old was diagnosed as having a mild nut allergy as a baby and had previously eaten cereals and chocolate bars containing traces of nuts with no ill effects.
But after sharing the tikka dish with his girlfriend, Becky, he complained of feeling ill and suffered anaphylactic shock, which causes the windpipe to close.
He was taken to hospital in Trafford from Becky’s Heywood home, but died two days later on June 7.
His parents have campaigned passionately to make more people aware of food allergies since their son’s death.
They believe ground peanuts could had been used to thicken Phillip’s curry and caused the violent reaction.
Mr Heywood, from Little Lever, says it brings back terrible memories when they hear of other people still dying of an allergic reaction.
His mum said: “Every time I read about another person dying from an allergic reaction, it’s like reading about Phillip’s death. It brings it all back and I still get upset.
“The worst thing is, there’s no warning for some people. Phillip didn’t get a warning. Some people don’t even know they have an allergy until the worse happens and it’s terrible to read about it happening to other families.”
An allergy is caused when the body’s immune system reacts to a normally harmless substance, such as pollen, food, or house dust mite.
The body identifies the substance as a threat and produces an inappropriate, exaggerated response to it.
A survey carried out by charity Allergy UK shows that allergies are on the increase — affecting up to 35 per cent of people at some stage in their lives.
The pattern of allergy is also changing.
Initially the increase was in asthma and hay fever, yet recent studies show a significant increase in the number of food allergies — in particular amongst children. In the UK, it is estimated that up to 50 per cent of children are diagnosed with an allergic condition.
Dr Heidi Northover is a consultant paediatrician at the Royal Bolton Hospital and says she has seen a rise in the number of children with food allergies.
These vary from babies with cow’s milk protein allergy to children with peanut allergies.
Dr Northover said: “Allergies in children certainly seem to be on the increase. We are seeing a lot of children in the paediatric department with some form of food allergy. They range from young babies to teenagers and each pose their own problems.”
The paediatrician has also had the terrifying experience of witnessing her own child, Genevieve, aged 10, have a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Dr Northover added: ”On Mothers’ Day this year my daughter had a serious allergic reaction after eating a chocolate which we did not realise contained praline, hazelnut puree.
“She developed a tingling mouth and throat tightening. For the first time we had to use her adrenaline pen on her.
"She was extremely frightened and felt that she was dying. She was actually asking for her pen and to go to hospital.
“After the adrenaline pen was used she felt a lot better within minutes and by the time the ambulance arrived she was almost back to normal.”
Dr Northover advises parents and carers to read allergy warning labels carefully. Legislation has recently changed for allergy labelling of foods — allergens are now labelled in bold in the ingredient list rather than listed separately at the end.
Parents should be especially careful with unpackaged food and foods processed and packaged outside the European Union, where manufacturing processes may be less stringent.
They should also make sure they have an antihistamine available at all times. Some children will also need to carry an adrenaline auto-injector pen such as Epipen or Jext.
For more information about allergies, go to allergy.co.uk