BRITAIN is facing an allergy time bomb, with record numbers of children being admitted to hospital after life-threatening allergic reactions to everything from nuts and milk to kiwi.
Everything from a rise in caesarean sections and formula milk to children spending too much time indoors has been blamed for the dramatic increase in allergies.
New figures from the NHS show the number of kids suffering from anaphylaxis has risen by 40 per cent in just five years.
Last week a coroner ruled burger chain Byron “misled” 18-year-old Owen Carey over ingredients in the chicken burger that killed him.
The teenager told restaurant staff he was allergic to dairy, but he was not told his order contained chicken coated in buttermilk.
The coroner called for menus to stamp a red ‘A‘ next to all items containing allergens, with Byron saying they take allergies “extremely seriously” and Owen’s death was a matter of “great regret and sadness”.
Dr Helen Brough, a consultant paediatric allergist at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, has treated hundreds of children with allergies.
She says a number of factors created by modern society have culminated in this deadly rise.
“Being too clean is a very simple way of looking at it,” she says.
“It’s about being in an environment where you are exposed to bacterial products which regulate the immune system.
“I’m not saying we should start eating mud, but even having a dog in the house can have a protective effect as they bring bacterial products in from the outside.”
‘Another child death is inevitable’
Helen adds that Vitamin D from sunlight is known to have a preventative effect, so kids spending less time outdoors could be to blame.
Also new evidence suggests stopping young children eating foods like peanuts or eggs can actually increase the risk of allergy because of the effect it has on the gut.
Research has also found that children born via caesarean section are five times more likely to develop allergies later in life, and babies fed formula milk are more likely to have eczema in the first year of life.
Families are calling for more research to explain why the number of children being diagnosed with deadly allergies is soaring.
Sadie Bristow’s parents are just two of many backing the calls after she died following just one bite of a ham sandwich at a family picnic last Summer.
The nine-year-old, who was allergic to nuts and dairy, went into anaphylactic shock and passed away the next day.
Sadie had battled allergies since birth and was rushed to hospital a number of times after life-threatening reactions.
“There were many occasions when she ended up in hospital with anaphylactic shock but there were never any follow up appointments,” says mum Clare.
“It’s beggars belief. The Government has to push for change, otherwise it will only be a matter of time until someone else dies.”
New statistics published by NHS Digital have shown a dramatic increase in the number of young children admitted to hospital with anaphylactic shock – a reaction so severe it can be fatal.
A worrying 849 children aged 10 and under were treated for anaphylaxis from 2017 to 2018, compared to 601 from 2013 to 2014 – a rise of over a third.
‘I lived in constant fear’
Clare, 42, who lives in Canterbury, Kent, with husband Stewart, 45, a tennis coach, and her two remaining daughters Charlotte, 12, and April, one, knew Sadie had issues from when she was a baby.
Her reactions were severe, with her lips quickly swelling if she came into contact with milk, but it took six months’ of doctors trips before they got help.
Eventually tests showed she was allergic to dairy and nuts.
There are no official Government guidelines on allergy testing, and Clare calls care “haphazard” – Sadie was in and out of hospital for the first four years of her life as she kept having reactions.
Eventually her family paid for private tests, with Clare claiming kids with allergies should be checked regularly as things change so quickly with them.
“I can’t tell you what kind of stress we suffered,” Clare says.
“I battled severe anxiety for the first four years of Sadie’s life. It’s so scary, you get conflicting information, I didn’t know what was safe.”
But things didn’t get easier.
“The first time she had an anaphylactic shock she was five,” Clare recalls. “We put that down to a contaminated spoon in an ice cream parlour.
“The second time it happened she’d accidentally eaten a brioche bun and had a delayed anaphylactic shock two hours later.
“She had another one after a plain burger. There was no dairy listed in the ingredients but she reacted.
“Still there was no follow up appointment.”
Every UK school has a child with a deadly allergy
It was at a family picnic in Whistable, Kent, in August 2018, that Sadie suffered a fatal anaphylactic reaction after eating a ham sandwich – even though Clare had checked the packaging to be sure she could have it.
Although the family gave her medication and quickly got her to a nearby medical centre, Sadie was unresponsive.
She went into cardiac arrest, and nothing could be done to save her.
Lynne Regent, chief executive of the Anaphylaxis Campaign charity said modern diets could be to blame.
“One child in 50 now has a serious nut allergy which means every school across Britain is affected,” she says.
“Allergies can be hereditary.
“If there is asthma in the family, sometimes you get children developing food allergies but it also happens in families where there is no history of anything.
“Our eating habits have changed exponentially over the past few years. We all eat more processed food and there is less cooking from scratch. We eat different sorts of food from all over the world.
“We don’t know why this might cause allergies but it’s a change in behaviour that might explain why allergies are increasing. It’s something we need to research.”
A Swedish study of over one million children found that babies born via Caesarean section are five times more likely to develop food allergies in later life.
“Presumably this is due to the different bacteria a child is first exposed to,” Dr Brough says. “Whether they go through the birth canal or not and the impact this has on their gut bacteria.”
Babies fed formula milk are also more likely to suffer skin allergies such as eczema and dermatitis, though evidence is thin on the ground.
“It is probably the lack of breastfeeding rather than formula that is the issue,” Dr Brough explains.
“There is only one proper study due to ethical issues but children in the control group with low breastfeeding rates had double the risk of eczema up until one year of age.”
Many parents say their child’s allergies appear to have been present from birth.
‘I was terrified of feeding her’
One of those is Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, whose daughter Natasha died aged 15 after eating a Pret a Manger baguette containing sesame seeds on a BA flight to France.
Natasha was severely allergic to sesame seeds but they weren’t listed in the ingredients.
Tanya 52, from Fulham, South London, struggled to access the right support in Natasha’s younger years.
“I gave Natasha a tiny bit of banana when she was six months old and she had an anaphylactic reaction,” Tanya recalls.
“I became terrified about what might cause a reaction. I went to my GP and asked about allergies and I asked whether Natasha should have a test, but he said ‘No, it’s really rare, nothing to worry about’.
“He told me to wean her on to a dairy milk formula. I did, and she had a full anaphylactic reaction. Her lips and face swelled, she was struggling to breathe. Still, we were offered no tests.”
Until Natasha was two, she survived on chicken and vegetable soup made at home by her mum as the family tried to avoid potential allergens. She was also diagnosed with asthma.
“Aged two and a half, she grabbed a bread stick with sesame seeds on it and she reacted,” Tanya explains. “It was then she was finally given a blood test.
“Sometimes just walking into a coffee shop would make her react, we put it down to milk proteins in the air if they were making frothy coffee.”
‘We worry every day’
Tanya believes the rate of allergies has increased so fast that professionals are struggling to cope.
“We are facing a time bomb when it comes to allergies – and it’s going to explode,” she says.
After Natasha’s death in 2016, her parents set up the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, a charity which aims to raise awareness of allergies as well as pushing for change.
Their biggest success is with Natasha’s Law, legislation which will force businesses to list the full ingredients on prepackaged foods from the summer of 2021.
Mum Emma Amoscato has two children – James, six, and Amalia, three – with allergies and hopes the law will make things easier for her.
“A lot of places now will have a disclaimer and say they can’t guarantee any of their food is free from anything,” explains Emma, 37, a writer from Bedfordshire.
“At the moment, restaurants only have to list the top 14 allergens and both of mine have quite rare allergies.”
Symptoms of anaphylaxis
Children may appear weak and ‘floppy’.
Swollen lips and/or eyes, itchy skin or a rash like hives, wheezing and finding it hard to breathe or speak, feeling faint, dizzy or confused, vomiting or having diarrhoea are just some of the symptoms of severe allergy and need immediate action.
This is by no means a full list of symptoms, so always speak to your doctor about what you should watch out for.
Sometimes there are other factors that on the day can increase the severity of your reaction. These are called co-factors and these can include exercise, feeling unwell with a viral illness, alcohol and tablets, such as some painkillers.
For some people with allergies, more serious reactions such as anaphylaxis may only occur if they have eaten a specific food, or taken the medication to which they are allergic, then they exercise.
People with asthma and allergies are known to be more at risk of severe reactions than those without.
Just like Sadie’s family, Emma struggled to get testing for James. He was a grizzly baby and by the time he was 10 weeks old he had severe eczema.
His reactions grew steadily stronger and around his first birthday he was referred to a specialist and diagnosed with allergies to milk, garlic, egg, sesame, some nuts and sumac.
He was admitted to hospital with anaphylaxis after taking a sip from another child’s milk cup while on holiday. Dad Carl, 49, had to inject him with adrenaline.
“After that it kicked in for us how serious it was,” Emma says. “We kept asking ourselves what we’d do if it happened again, wondering what would happen if we weren’t with him.
“We read news stories about children like ours who have died, it’s a huge worry every day of our lives.
“People say it’s because we are ‘too clean’ but my children have had allergies since birth. That doesn’t explain what has happened to them – we need answers.”
Sadie’s parents Clare and Stewart believe the UK has a lot more work to do when it comes to providing care and awareness for allergy sufferers.
“No one else should have to die for things to improve,” says Clare.
“Sadie’s little sister is also battling allergies. I live every day terrified that I will have to say goodbye to another little girl.
“I can’t do that – something must be done.”