Australia has one of the highest rates of food allergies in the developed world with an exponential increase of food allergy over the last 10-15 years which now accounts for 1 in every 500 hospital admissions for children aged 5-14.
Stephanie Kennedy, Yarrawonga Health’s Operational Director of Community Services, said allergic reactions to food could rapidly become life threatening, so it was essential for people to know the signs and symptoms of when a food allergy occurs and how to provide emergency treatment.
“Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia is calling on Australian’s to join together for one week from May 14 to 20, to ‘Be Aware Show You Care’ and aims to raise community understanding of food allergies,” Stephanie said.
“One in 10 babies born in Australia today will develop a potentially life-threatening food allergy.
“These families live with the lifestyle restrictions these allergies bring on a day to day basis.”
Mulwala resident Lett Nagle knows of the seriousness of food allergies only too well, as her three-year old son Sonny suffers from severe allergies to both eggs and peanuts.
These allergies were diagnosed when Sonny was between six and 14 months of age and have resulted in multiple reactions the most severe of which was anaphylaxis, a rapid onset of throat or tongue swelling, low blood pressure and shortness of breath which can result in a lack of oxygen and damage to vital organs such as the brain.
Lett and Sonny now carry an epi-pen, an injection containing a chemical to reverse the effects of anaphylaxis, with them wherever they go.
“We have four epi-pens, they are in places such as the car and the grandparent’s house to ensure we always have one near Sonny,” Lett said.
“A lot of the time people don’t realise how serious these allergies are for Sonny and how easily he can have a reaction, even from slight traces of eggs or peanuts left on clothing or bed sheets.”
Food allergies can be isolating for families, as at times the risk of exposure to an allergen can seem to be too great.
It can be difficult for families with a child who suffers from a severe allergy to socialise and take part in normal activities, and Lett said that situations around other people who aren’t as aware are difficult as there are a lot of misconceptions about food allergies.
“This affects our everyday life, I get anxiety taking him out of our four walls, going to the park, supermarket, eating out or getting takeaway and I dread the day that he gets invited to a drop-off party,” Lett said
“I’d like to give people some more information regarding these allergies as I’ve previously been brushed off and told that it’s not a big deal”.
Lett and Sonny attend the outpatient clinic at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne every six months for further testing.
“We were told that by the age of six we will know whether this is a lifetime allergy or not as a lot of children will grow out of it, however unfortunately for Sonny, his allergies are getting worse at each 6-monthly test so this is unlikely in his case,” Lett said.
“The more people who are educated in our community, the better we are able to deal with this serious health condition as I’m not always going to be in control of every move Sonny makes and he, and others like him, will need to be educated and supported.”
Food Allergy Aware is encouraging people to paint one fingernail to symbolize the one in 10 babies born with a food allergy to raise awareness from May 14 to 20.
Further information regarding Allergy Awareness Week can be found at www.foodallergyaware.com.au .
Lett also hopes to increase awareness and provide support to other families who have children with food allergies and can be contacted via email [email protected]