On 20th May 2017, a freak allergic incident took my daughter, aged nine, away from me forever. What had happened? She wanted to eat pancakes and insisted on adding blackberries to the mix to try something new. Little did we know that one bite of this carefully mixed, home-made pancake could trigger a severe allergic reaction and, ultimately, kill her.
The incident shook the world, not just friends and family in the UK and India. The story of this nine-year-old girl was plastered all over social media and global media.
Nainika was a fully breastfed baby and at the time of weaning, was exposed to cow's milk that she reacted to very violently. As first-time parents, we did not know what had happened and we rushed her to the hospital where after a long wait we were told she is allergic to milk and dairy.
This came as a shock to us and I had no idea what a baby was to have if not for milk! When the prick tests were conducted to map her allergy profile at seven months old, we discovered she was also allergic to egg and sensitive to soya. We were recommended to give her a milder version of soya milk as an alternate.
Around age seven, Nainika grew out of her egg allergy though she would react mildly to raw egg. She had shown signs of unpleasantness upon the intake of tomatoes, but we never really paid attention thinking she was fussing. There was no care plan to understand progressively what needed to be done over the years.
After the first test at seven months, the next allergy test was conducted after her death to discover she was allergic to blackberry.
Nainika's was a rare case and nobody has definitively been able to tell us what exactly caused her death dairy or blackberries? Though this did throw up clear gaps and oversights within the medical system to her and other allergy sufferers. She was also severely asthmatic and had an inhaler. So every time she had a reaction, it would be in the form of asthma. Every time it was the antihistamine syrup along with a few puffs of inhaler that would get her better.
Only a year before she died in 2017, did she have a near fatal accident when she had anaphylactic shock that made her momentarily collapse. The medics were able to revive her within fraction of seconds and we got her back, alive and happy.
Though in 2017, her heartbeat stopped for over an hour and as a result, blood did not circulate to her brain, causing permanent, irreparable damage to the brain. We lost her forever.
So, if you suspect your baby is showing signs of discomfort, I strongly recommend you get them tested. And yes, for those who take allergies lightly, please have a serious rethink.
- Though any food can trigger an allergic reaction, it is only a handful of food types that cause 90 per cent of all food allergies in UK. The common causes of food allergy are celery, crustaceans, eggs, fish, gluten cereals, lupin flour, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphites.
- Fussy eaters complain of allergies is the common myth. As is evident in my daughter's case and several that followed her in fatalities, a food allergy is a serious, often life-threatening reaction to a particular food involving the immune system. Many people confuse allergies with intolerance. Though food intolerances are less serious, they still cause a lot of discomfort.
- Eating small amounts won t hurt: This is one of the most challenging behavioural issues emanating from the myth that exposure to small amounts will actually get the body used to the allergen, therefore ultimately overcome the allergy. Though arguably, this may be true in a control environment, ordinary households do not have the equipment to deal with such de-sensitisation experiments. Those severely allergic can react to even traces of allergens or particles in air for an allergen not even directly in their bodily contact. Contamination of any kind pans, pots, spoons, knives that have used an allergen cannot be used to serve or cook for an allergy sufferer, unless properly washed with soap.
- Food allergies are not rare; they affect over 2 million people in the UK alone 5 per cent of all children and 2 per cent of all adults suffer from food allergies. This figure is only steadily growing up, not down!
- Though it may not always be the case, if your sibling or parent has an allergy, chances are very high that you will do too.
- One can be born with an allergy and grow out of it or may grow into it at a later age. Most children allergic to egg and milk grow out of it by age five, but an allergy to peanuts, seafood, fish and tree nuts rarely goes away. Many cases of milk and egg allergy become milder or stronger with age too. There is no clear data to prove otherwise.
- And no, you cannot cook allergens out of food!
Lakshmi Kaul is the London-based UK Head & Representative at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and an active Indian diaspora campaigner. In this regular Talking Point column for iGlobal, she will focus on issues that deserve spotlighting within the Global Indian community, referencing her personal experiences.