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"I've had a severe peanut allergy my whole life. Here’s what I want you to know."

Listen to this story being read by Charlotte Begg, here. 


Last week, I had my first allergic reaction to peanuts in years. I had forgotten just how terrifying they can be.

I had returned from a morning media event and sat down at my desk to get stuck into my breakfast - starving, I'd grabbed a yoghurt bowl with muesli on the way out.

Muesli doesn't usually have peanuts in it, and I always ask before ordering some just to double check. Of course, I didn't this time, and this one did. I ate the peanut on my first bite.

I have only recently returned from an overseas trip, and my EpiPen was sitting in my travel bag at the time of the incident - something I'm still kicking myself for.

Not knowing how bad this reaction would get and not wanting to make a fuss with my colleagues in meetings, I flagged down a taxi and told him the driver get me to Emergency, stat.

My throat was tightening, and breathing was becoming more and more difficult. 

When I got to Emergency, the nurses rushed me onto a bed and gave me adrenaline.

That sorted the throat closing over part, but then came the next symptoms - uncontrollable shaking, nausea and itchiness - and the following day, I was bedridden. 

That's just one time it's happened, and that wasn't the worst.

There was a few years back, when a roommate innocently offered me a smoothie without knowing about my allergy, replacing the milk with nuts and water. No one knew how to use an EpiPen and we called 000.

Then there was that time I was holidaying with my family on a tropical island. The hospital was two hours away and the first EpiPen didn't work. (Thankfully, the second one did, and there was an English doctor studying on the other side of the island who came and saw me.) 

That was, by far, the worst one.

In Emergency, after my most recent reaction. Image: Supplied. 

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I've been anaphylactic since I was a few months old, and the only person in my family who has a severe allergy. 

For those that might not know, anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and is potentially life-threatening.

According to the most recent study in 2017, almost three in every 100 children have a peanut allergy. Around 20 per cent of children grow out of it.

It's different for everyone, but for me it's just tasting the nut (smelling it is fine, thankfully), and the reaction comes on in seconds. 

My tongue will tingle, my lips will swell and my throat will tighten until I can no longer breathe.

TMI, but if I get whatever I've eaten out of my body quickly, I can stop the reaction from getting worse and just take an antihistamine - this has happened a bunch of times, so it's not always as bad as the reactions I've mentioned. 

But if it is, I need my EpiPen (an adrenaline autoinjector) and an ambulance.

Having lived with the allergy for my entire life, it's something I've learned how to navigate, and I think I've done a pretty good job.

I come from a family of foodies who also love to travel - so I'm regularly eating at new places and in new countries, mostly without a worry. 

I know what foods contain peanuts (generally) and always ask or check the ingredient list. 

I can eat basically everything, minus things like satay, peanut butter and Reese's Pieces (yes, I can eat almost all types of chocolate). 

And while most packaged food says "may contain nuts" on the back, that's not an issue for me. But that's not the case for everyone.

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It's sometimes concerning when eating at restaurants - especially Asian (my favourite) as they occasionally cook with and garnish their dishes with nuts - but that's where my taste testers (my dad, brother and boyfriend) come in handy.

And while I've never minded my family eating peanuts around me despite the smell making me nauseous, my boyfriend sadly can't eat it. 

If he does and kisses me, we have no idea how bad that could be.

That leads into the hardest part about having a severe allergy for so long - not exactly knowing what we're dealing with.

If you've been tested for allergies before, you'll know about the prick test - a doctor will prick your skin, insert a small amount of a substance and wait to see what happens.

If you're allergic, a reddish, elevated bump will appear. And usually it's extremely itchy. 

When I was younger, I did this a few times, then we would move onto oral testing. I would sit at the hospital and be fed peanuts - each serving bigger than the last - to see just how bad my reaction got. 

I've been putting off this testing for probably 10 years. And I know, "how do you know what you're dealing with, it might have gotten better?", I know.

Following my most recent scare, I knew it was time to get a better understanding of my allergy. But sadly, my doctor tells me that Sydney, where I live, is short on allergy specialists. 

The public hospitals have stopped accepting new referrals, so I need to look for a private clinic and go on a waitlist.

It's worth the mission. I hope by doing the testing, I'll know what I'm dealing with for possibly the rest of my life.

And just know that if you come across anyone who tells you they have a severe allergy - whether it be a colleague, a friend or even your Hinge date - it's not a laughing (or eye-rolling) matter. For us, it could be life or death.

Charlotte Begg is Mamamia's lifestyle writer. From more, follow her Instagram here.

Feature image: Supplied.

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