Anyone who has an allergy, or anyone who has a child with an allergy, will be able to recall the exact moment they knew something wasn’t quite right. It might have been a wedge of dripping papaya or a sting from a jellyfish. For others it was a slice of peanut butter toast before school or a poached egg on toast that sparked a lifetime of living cautiously around food.
And for Nurse Practitioner Andrea, allergies became a career choice.
After living with the symptoms of eczema, asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and anaphylaxis for over 40 years, Andrea knew that she wanted to use her understanding to help others in the same position. With this in mind, Andrea came to work for Allergy Medical, the first clinic of its kind in Australia, established to provide timely solutions to the maddening web of allergies.
Recently, Mamamia sat down with Andrea to discuss the great impact allergies have on both our minds and bodies.
Q: I understand that you have now lived with eczema for around 40 years. Can you explain how this experience has affected your lifestyle?
A: My journey with eczema has influenced my life, informed my career choice, affected the clothes I wear and even how I style my hair. It has most definitely led me to where I am today – and I have to say, that’s a pretty great place.
My mum said I developed eczema at six weeks of age and I don’t think this was a huge surprise to my parents. My Dad has eczema and can remember being in hospital as a little boy. My mum made it her mission to “cure” my eczema, but 40 years ago finding out information about eczema wasn’t easy. We had no internet (much to my kid’s utter horror), Dr Google and Dr Wiki hadn’t been dreamed up yet and there were no websites or Facebook pages. It was just my parents, grandparents and some barely interested GP’s. She tried every recommended (and some not recommended) cream under the sun — some worked, some didn’t, some stung and some didn’t.
As I got older, I learned how to manage my eczema. A GP recently said to me that she thought eczema kids grow up to be the best adults — they are resilient and resourceful. Of course I agree, I am one.
Q: With this experience in mind, what is your favourite part of working with Allergy Medical?
A: I absolutely love giving families a little bit of hope at the end of the day. By the time a family comes to see a specialist, they’ve usually tried every eczema cream on the market and they’re in quite a lot of distress. And so the most job satisfaction that I get is by saying, “Look, this is a difficult thing to manage but we can absolutely manage it with you. Any questions you may have you can give me a ring and we can follow up and we’ll stay in touch.” And I think the best thing to be able to do as a clinician is to give them hope, give them a plan, and follow them up to make sure everything is working. That’s probably the best thing, clinically speaking.
Q: What does a patient’s first consultation at Allergy Medical look like?
A: For allergy testing, the patient will phone up and schedule a time to visit. After this they will come in and they will have a consultation with one of the doctors, where they would have an in depth conversation about the history of their allergies or any concerns that they have. After this, the patient would go to one of the nurses where they will undergo a skin prick* or patch test.
Once the skin prick test is carried out, they will go back to the doctor again to find out the results and work on a management plan. And if there is availability they could be seen immediately for eczema clinic.
A lot of patients come through who don’t actually have allergies, they have food intolerances, and for this reason, we also have dietitians on staff who work very closely with these patients.
*A skin prick test is used to determine which substance or substances are causing an allergy. A few drops of the purified allergen are gently pricked on to the skin surface, usually the forearm.
Q: Is there a particular case or treatment plan that has stuck with you?
A: Yes, I had a little baby that came through at around six months of age. He was a “normal” and breastfed baby but he just started to have very, very dry skin. His mum noticed that his skin was becoming very inflamed and itchy and by that point he wasn’t sleeping very well — he was also really irritable and would scratch his skin off. In fact, it looked like he was on fire when he first saw me.
His mum had seen her GP on a few occasions only to be told, “Oh, it’s just eczema, you’ll be fine, go away and just put some moisturiser on.” She had also visited the emergency room twice and was encountered with the same response.
Finally, she came to us at Allergy Medical in utter distress. She saw the doctor immediately and we performed a skin prick test, which was incredibly difficult because he was so inflamed. Next she came to me and normally I would explain why and how eczema occurs and how we can help manage it, but the baby was just hysterical. And like I said, he looked like he was on fire, red top to toe, hot to the touch with really dry scaly skin.
So, in this case I said, “I don’t think we can talk about this, let’s just show you what to do.” So we did him in some wet wraps with steroids and moisturiser. We then put a plan in place and were sure to follow up with them three days later. When he came back he had improved quite a lot in his eczema but he was still having massive allergy flares.
It’s taken us a long time to work out what he’s allergic to. We’ve eliminated the dust mites from his home as best we could, changed his formula because as it turns out he is also allergic to egg and cow’s milk.
I have been seeing him now for a period of about eight weeks and he has gradually improved throughout that time. He certainly isn’t that baby “on fire” that he was when we first saw him — so, his mum is really really pleased with the care that we have been able to provide him with. He has come leaps and bounds — he’s starting to gain weight again and he’s sleeping which means the whole family is sleeping and happy.
What people don’t realise is that eczema can totally ruin people’s lives if it isn’t managed correctly, which is why I’m so passionate about what I do. It’s not rocket science, you just need some good advice and support. Families don’t have to suffer in silence, there is help.
Have you or anyone in your family ever suffered from allergies? What kind of an effect did it have on your life?
Allergy Medical’s new generation of GPs lead the way in allergy treatment. Developed and supervised by Professor Pete Smith – one of Australia’s most respected allergists and immunologists – the dedicated allergy clinic provides complete allergy care. With a clinic in Brisbane and a second location opening soon in Sydney, Allergy Medical makes a real difference to the lives of those living with allergy.
For more information about allergy symptoms and treatments, visit AllergyMedicalGroup.com.au. To book an appointment and get well sooner rather than later, call 02 9096 2999 for the new Double Bay clinic in Sydney or 07 3252 3711 for the Newstead clinic in Brisbane.