As someone who suffers from a severe nut allergy, Amber Allen is use to adapting her life around her health. She avoids certain cuisines, she carries medications and EPI Pens wherever she goes. She even wears gloves and sometimes face masks on planes to prevent inadvertently coming into contact with nuts.
But it’s not always enough.
On Monday night, the Tweed Heads woman was on board a flight between Sydney and the Gold Coast when her eyes began to itch. Within ten minutes the flesh around her eye had begun to swell. Speaking to Mamamia, the paediatric feeding specialist said that while she hadn’t ingested any nuts and was wearing gloves, she believes she may have been exposed to traces while on board – perhaps from her seat or tray table.
“In my day-to-day life this happens semi-regularly [roughly fortnightly],” she said. “But on this flight it was significantly worse than usual.”
Amber’s two children, aged five and six, were travelling with her, and Amber said despite her calm assurances, they were terrified it could be the beginning of a more severe reaction.
“They know how bad it can get, so they’re generally pretty anxious on a day to day basis anyway,” she said. “Then they see something like that happen…”
When she exhausted her own supply of medication, staff on the Jetstar flight appealed to other passengers for assistance and some were able to offer antihistamines. It was enough to halt her symptoms, but the swelling ultimately took 36 hours to subside.
Amber is now appealing for airlines to consider taking nut-containing products off the menu.
“Of course people bring on their own nuts, of course there’s always going to be some risk,” she said. “But if nuts are in almost every single snack on the menu, the chance of me having a reaction or someone else having a reaction are much higher.”
A recent Australian study found that peanut allergy alone affects three per cent of children under one year of age. According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), symptoms generally include hives, swelling around the mouth and vomiting. In severe cases, it causes anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.
A small number of people with severe cases have also reported minor reactions – mostly swelling, itching – from skin contact and inhaling particles. Though ASCIA notes that these are rare.