A woman has become allergic to all foods and even certain smells can cause her to suffer a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
Lauren Wittering, 20, from Kettering, Northamptonshire, suffers from a condition known as mast cell activation syndrome, or MCAS, where a person’s mast cells (which are responsible for allergic reactions) are overly triggered by unusual substances, resulting in allergic reactions and anaphylaxis (a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction).
“I loved food so much and now I can’t even be near it - just the smell of food will send me into anaphylaxis,” she explains.
“If I come into contact with something I am allergic to, hives will quickly appear and cover my entire body.
“My breathing will deteriorate, I will fall unconscious, my stats will start to drop, my heart rate will go really high and I can have full on anaphylaxis where I need adrenaline.”
Wittering was diagnosed with MCAS four years ago, after she started coming out in hives, feeling faint or developing a racing heart when she ate soy or dairy.
Virtually overnight, her reactions intensified and now she is allergic to all foods, as well as alcohol, smoke and perfume.
She has to wear a mask whenever she goes out of the house, to prevent her smelling anything.
Doctors had to fit a feeding tube into Wittering’s stomach, but she even became allergic to that, so she is now fed through a tube that goes straight into her heart.
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As a result of her condition Wittering hasn’t been able to consume food in over a year and has lost five stone in the past two years. She now weighs just six and a half stone.
Wittering started to show symptoms of MCAS during her A-levels when her skin came out in hives after coming into contact with alcohol based solutions in school chemistry lessons.
Despite frequent visits to the nurse and fainting in exams, Wittering achieved three A*s in her first year before she was forced to leave school due to her health.
She was admitted into hospital for six months, while there she was finally diagnosed with MCAS.
“The first food things were anything with soy in it and then we started to realise dairy affected me too and then I lost more and more foods,” Wittering explains.
“For about a year, I had five foods I could eat - chicken, rice, potato, carrots and broccoli.
“I just rotated those foods round and round with no reactions but then pretty much overnight, I became anaphylactic to all those foods so I couldn't eat anything.”
Following the realisation she was now reacting to all foods, Wittering was admitted into hospital for two months, where she was fitted with a feeding tube that went into her intestines.
Despite it being the most hypoallergenic feeding tube available, Wittering has now become allergic to that, so she survives on an intravenous central line, where all of the nutrients she requires to live go directly into the main vessel of her heart.
She also has a special allergy mask that filters out allergens to allow her to go out in public, but still experiences issues if a smell is particularly strong.
“Just before lockdown, my mum and I went to an outdoor shopping village,” she recalls.
“I’d had a great day, but then in the last shop, a woman opened a hand sanitiser next to me and I immediately went into anaphylaxis.”
Despite not being able to predict what will happen or how people will react, Wittering doesn’t want her condition to prevent her going out and living her life.
As well as MCAS, Wittering also suffers from a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, as well as Postural tachycardia syndrome (an abnormal increase in heart rate that occurs after sitting up or standing).
She is now awaiting a trial of a drug from America, which she hopes may one day help her be able to enjoy food again.
“You don't realise how much food is part of your social life until you can’t eat,” she says.
Despite everything she has been through, Wittering has maintained a positive attitude and hopes to return to education with dreams of becoming a dietitian after being inspired by those who have helped her.
“Since I've been unwell, I've become really interested in diatetics,” she explains. “I find it so amazing that you can be fed through your veins and that can keep you alive.”
She now hopes she will one day be able to help others going through something similar.
“Like my mum said, if I was able to do it, I’d have the empathy for other people as well as I've been through it myself,” she adds.
Additional reporting SWNS.