Nut allergy: With one kiss, I could kill my husband

 

28/07/2008

 

Source of Article:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/main.jhtml?xml=/health/2008/07/28/hkiss128.xml

 

A severe nut allergy shapes your whole life - and those of the people around you, as Deborah Joseph learned

For most women trying to avoid the amorous advances of their husband, the line "Not tonight, I've got a headache" will suffice. For me, a simple "Don't come near me, I ate nuts for lunch" does the trick. My 30-year-old husband Adam is severely allergic to nuts - so much so that if I've had goat's cheese and walnut salad for lunch, a quick smooch could be the kiss of death.

Food allergens - particularly those in nuts - can remain in saliva for hours. In 2005, a Canadian teenager with an extreme nut allergy died from acute respiratory failure after kissing her boyfriend, who had eaten a peanut-butter sandwich hours earlier.

In the past 12 years, there have been 125 fatalities in Britain in which anaphylaxis (an extreme allergic reaction which can cause respiratory problems and even end in heart attack) was recorded as the cause of death. Though not all such deaths were nut-related, as a society we remain remarkably ignorant of the potential dangers.

One of the first things Adam, managing director of a communications agency, told me about himself was that he had a nut allergy. He had discovered it at the age of 12 when bagging handfuls of nuts for his mum, who is a caterer. Within minutes, his hands were swollen, his throat felt itchy and he had problems breathing, so he was rushed to hospital and given adrenalin.

When he told me about the allergy, I didn't realise what a huge impact it had had on his life - and would have on mine. Everyone seems to have an allergy of some sort these days and I used to dismiss such "allergies" as a euphemism for "I'm on a ridiculous diet". Yet living with someone with such a condition is a minefield.

I'm a vegetarian and part-Iranian so nuts ought to play a huge part in my cooking - but I've had to banish them from the house, and find myself wolfing them down the second he goes away on business. As editor of Condé Nast Brides magazine, I have to attend receptions at which canapés containing nuts are routinely served; if I don't ask what's in each one, I risk sending Adam into anaphylactic shock.

I've lost count of the number of times we have been assured by a waiter that a meal is nut-free, only for it to be garnished with pesto, made with pine nuts. At Thai restaurants, we have asked especially for meals with "no nuts", only to be served peanut satay as an appetiser. (Curiously, Adam is unaffected by peanuts, the nut that most commonly causes allergic reactions. A 2004 House of Commons report found that as many as one in 50 children may be allergic to them.) On an Emirates flight last year, we ordered a nut-free meal, which arrived with a big white label stating "no nuts". But when we peeled back the silver foil, we found that the fish was coated with almonds. Adam has learnt the word for "nut" in 15 languages and always carries an Epipen - which delivers an adrenalin shot into the thigh in emergencies - in addition to the ones in my handbag and in our car.

?'Nut allergies are a growing phenomenon of the last 10 to 15 years," says Professor Gideon Lack, an expert in children's food allergies who is conducting a study to see if exposure to peanuts in early life can inhibit such allergies. "One reason is that we're all far too clean and our immune systems have become bored as they don't have dangerous proteins to fight against, so they start attacking friendly proteins such as nuts." Prof Lack says that in African and Asian countries where pregnant women aren't discouraged from eating peanuts and babies are fed peanut soup, have very low levels of nut allergy. "These countries have higher levels of parasitic infections than ours, so it's possible that their immune systems may be protected from allergies."

He also disputes Department of Health advice that advises pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers to avoid nuts. He says there may be a case for exposing children to the allergens in nuts. "Those who eat peanut snacks early in life may in fact be protected against peanut allergy, in contrast with previous studies which have suggested the opposite."

Doctors don't know whether Adam was born with his allergy or developed it later; we also don't have children yet but have to face the possibility any child might inherit his allergy (two of his young nephews are allergic - yet other nephews aren't).

At least our precautions have paid off; Adam hasn't had a reaction in the four-and-a-half years I have known him. We even wondered whether he might have outgrown his allergy and visited a specialist for a skin-prick test. Drops of solution containing nut extract were applied to the inner arm. Adam showed the most violent reaction to brazil and pine nuts, which caused red welts to erupt within seconds.

Of all our nut challenges, I'll never forget arriving at my parents' house the day before our wedding to find my Iranian mum and three friends preparing trays of wedding sweets made with crushed almonds, which, in Persian tradition, are thrown like confetti over the bride and groom. She could not understand the problem, because "we wouldn't be eating them". Adam, too polite to say anything, spent the wedding dodging almond bits like John Prescott in an egg factory. So much for romance.

  For more information on nut allergies, contact the Anaphylaxis Campaign (01252 542029, www.anaphylaxis.org.uk)

s can be run on the same equipment, follow a similar assay format, and are uniquely packaged to ensure the test strip only comes in contact with the sample.

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