‘Cake crumbs almost killed my son’: Mum lives in constant fear for son with allergies
Lucille Whiting was at her computer, responding to some emails when her six-year-old daughter Freyja walked into the room and mentioned that her little brother Eli, then three, had some spots.
"I knew what it meant and didn’t panic," says Whiting, 39, a jewellery designer from Suffolk. "Eli has several allergies and I thought he’d probably need his anti-histamine medicine, so I reassured Freyja that I was on my way with the bottle.
"But when I got to the kitchen I found Eli slumped across the legs of his older brother Josh, eight. Eli was covered in hives and gasping for breath like a goldfish."
"I screamed and my husband John came racing down the stairs, grabbing an Epi-pen (an adrenaline filled injection to help with a severe allergic reaction) and sticking it straight into Eli’s leg," Whiting continues.
"It was the first time either of us had had to administer one but almost immediately Eli began to come round.
"He told us that all he knew was that he couldn’t breathe and that he just needed to lie down and go to sleep.
"I’d called an ambulance and the paramedics arrived within minutes. But they told us we’d only just saved his life."
Read more: What to do if your child goes into anaphylactic shock
That was Easter Monday 2020 and a terrifying moment for the couple who also have two teenage children Alexander, 15 and Sophia, 13.
But little Eli is far from alone in suffering from a serious life-threatening allergy. According to Allergy UK, 44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy and the number of sufferers is on the rise, growing by around 2 million between 2008 and 2009 alone.
In the 20 years to 2021, there was a 615% increase in the rate of hospital admissions for anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction).
Watch: Allergy sufferers urged to rethink how they use antihistamines
Eli was diagnosed with an allergy to milk, eggs, peanuts, sesame seeds and fenugreek when he was only seven months old.
"I’d breastfed all my babies for quite a while, but by that age I could tell he was getting hungry for solids so I bought him a well-known brand of strawberry porridge and mixed it up with some breast milk," says Whiting.
"Very quickly, his face came up in hives and he sounded like he was having an asthma attack, so we took him to A&E straight away.
"By the time we’d got there, his reaction had calmed down. First reactions often do. But we were referred to a consultant who did some skin prick tests and immediately the consultant gave us some Epi-pens.
"Until that Easter Monday we’d never had to use it. We’d been so careful. We didn’t allow cow’s milk or eggs in the house and we were so careful about nuts too. We even had locks on the fridge so Eli couldn’t help himself to food.
"But over Easter we’d let our guard down and we had a cake in the fridge. Eli’s brother had opened the door and Eli had grabbed some blueberries but there must have been some cake crumbs on it. It was enough to send him into a severe allergic reaction which almost killed him."
Read more: The surprising foods on the 14 top allergens list
Now the family are on high-alert for any allergens coming near the house or near their son. They will not risk him attending mainstream school until he’s older and can be more aware of the triggers and symptoms and Whiting admits she has had to watch him like a hawk.
"We were in the supermarket the other day and I’d only got the first aisle when Eli said his throat felt scratchy," she says.
"I realised that although I’d wiped down the trolley with gel, he must have touched something that perhaps another child had touched while in the seat of the trolley before him. I gave him some antihistamine medicine and he was fine, but I can’t leave him for a second.
"I really do fear for his future. Children with allergies like this are like ‘borrowed angels’ – you never know ‘if’ or ‘when’ something is going to happen to him.
"Apparently the ‘danger’ time for kids is when they hit their teens and they want to be like other kids. He’ll never be able to have a takeaway or anything like that.
"But I have to stay hopeful and I’m reassured when I speak to adults who suffered from allergies in their childhood who now seem to have grown out of them or they’ve at least improved.
"But I know I will worry for him for the rest of my life and always be waiting for that phone call."
Watch: Researchers trace food allergies back to skin conditions in infants