health

Amber boarded a flight with her two children. Within 10 minutes, her face began to swell. 

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.”

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

Along with the physical symptoms, Amber said no matter how prepared she is, how many precautions she takes, the risks associated with her allergy trigger her generalised anxiety disorder.

“People say, ‘Why don’t you just stay home if that’s safer?’ That is like me asking them why they choose to drive a car despite the statistics involving motor vehicle accidents,” she said. “I have not chosen to have a life-threatening allergy, and I have permanent tachycardia [elevated heart rate] due to the anxiety surrounding when I may or may not have a reaction.

“The difference is that on the ground, I can go to a hospital in the worst-case scenario. In the air this is not an option.”

Jetstar’s response.

A Jetstar spokesperson told Mamamia the airline is sorry to learn of Amber’s experience.

“Jetstar does not sell peanuts and we have medical equipment on board in the event that a customer suffers a severe allergic reaction. However we do have some in-flight meals and snacks which contain traces of nuts. These meals and snacks are clearly labelled,” the spokesperson said.

“As other customers may bring their own food on board, we are not able to guarantee a nut-free cabin. We also provide information on our website for people with specific needs, explaining how they can inform us of any severe allergies so we can take extra and specific precautions.”

But as much as Amber would like to encourage airlines take action, she’s even more intent on raising awareness about severe peanut and tree nut allergies – something she hopes will foster understanding, compassion, and help reduce the stress many sufferers like her experience on a daily basis.

“The more people that can be aware, the less weird it will be when I get on a plane and say, ‘I’m really sorry, but I have a nut allergy but would you mind not eating nuts?’ Instead of them just staring at me angrily, they’ll be a bit more aware of nut allergies and the severity of them.

“If people could understand and be supportive, that would be amazing.”

For advice about managing peanut, tree nut and seed allergies consult your doctor. For more information, visit the ASCIA website.

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???