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LauraGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 24-Jul-17 11:29:32

Q&A with Jane Clarke on food and allergies

Do you suffer from an allergy? Do you have grandchildren with a food allergy or intolerance - and is there a difference between the two? Nutritionist Jane Clarke tells us about her personal experience with allergies and emphasises just how dangerous a lack of knowledge could be.

Jane will be answering your questions about allergies, food and nutrition in our in-depth Q&A. Add yours to the thread below by 12 noon on 14 August and we'll send them across for her to answer. You can find out more about Jane on her website

Jane Clarke

Food and allergies Q&A

Posted on: Mon 24-Jul-17 11:29:32


Lead photo

Ask Jane your questions about food allergies and intolerance

A couple of weeks ago, I went into anaphylactic shock after I’d eaten a piece of mackerel. My throat and lips began to swell, my heart began racing and, as I’d foolishly forgotten to pack my Epipen (blame it on the morning rush), I couldn’t administer myself with an adrenaline shot to relieve my symptoms. Instead, I had to dash to the nearest pharmacy and beg to be sold an Epipen. Actually it was the second pharmacy I visited; the first refused to give me one, despite me explaining that I’d once gone into cardiac arrest due to my allergy. It was a frightening experience, and one that made me aware of just how quickly it could have turned into a life-or-death situation.

The reason I’m sharing it with you is that cases of food allergy are increasing and they can happen at any time of life. You may have developed a reaction to certain foods, or you may care for a grandchild who has a food allergy or intolerance (I’ll explain the difference between these later), and it’s important to know what to do in an emergency.

According to latest figures from the NHS, there were more than 25,000 hospital admissions for allergies in England in 2015/16 (up 36 per cent on 2011/12 figures). There was also a rise in admissions for anaphylactic shock, with 4,451 going to hospital for this extreme reaction in 2015/16.

I’m not even allergic to mackerel – salmon and tuna are my fishy triggers, but my meal must have been prepared alongside these in the café’s kitchen. I’m also allergic to melon and strawberries and had taken the precaution of alerting the waiter before I ordered. I come from an atopic family (which means we’re rife with allergies and reactions, including hay fever, asthma and eczema) but I didn’t have a problem until the age of 30.

I’d just finished writing my first book and had come down with glandular fever. Mackerel, strawberries and melon are delicious, nutrition-packed foods, so I ate a lot of them to help me recover from my illness. Unfortunately, my compromised immune system started to react to them and they became ‘trigger foods’ that now spark an anaphylactic response in my body. No surprise, they’re now off the menu for me.

It was a frightening experience, and one that made me aware of just how quickly it could have turned into a life-or-death situation.

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction. It can hit within seconds or hours after eating or even touching the offending food. In anaphylaxis the body produces massive amounts of histamines and other chemicals, which cause the blood vessels to swell and the blood pressure to drop. The lips and throat can swell, which can cause problems with breathing and talking. The heart can start racing, hives and rashes can appear, and you can start wheezing. Lowering blood pressure can make you feel weak and even collapse.

Allergy or intolerance?

Allergies are driven by the immune system. Cells in the skin, nose, eyes, mouth, throat, stomach and gut become sensitised to an allergen and respond by releasing antibodies, including histamine, when in contact with it. A reaction happens instantly and usually responds quickly to treatment. People with an inherited tendency to allergy are called atopic and are more prone to asthma, eczema and hay fever.

Food intolerance is a hypersensitive reaction to a food by the body. Because they don’t involve the immune system, intolerances are not defined as allergies. They often occur when the body is unable to process a certain food element, such as gluten or lactose. Symptoms tend to affect the gut and include bloating, wind and cramps and although they can be severe, they’re not life threatening. A reaction may not happen immediately and may last for hours or even days.

What to do if you if you have a reaction to food

1. Don’t ignore even a mild reaction to a food as your response may be more severe next time. Seek advice from your GP who can arrange for tests. It’s also worth keeping a food and symptom diary so you can record what you’ve eaten and any symptoms.

2. Avoid problem foods – check food labels, tell friends, family and anyone else cooking for you, and inform staff in restaurants.

3. If you have been prescribed an Epipen, always carry it with you and administer it at the first sign of a reaction. Your doctor will advise on this.

4. Make sure you have a Food Allergy Care Plan so that you and others know what to do in the event of a reaction. You may want to wear a medical ID bracelet to alert others of your food allergy.

5. If you have a severe reaction, go to the doctor or A&E for follow-up treatment.

If you are looking after someone with a food allergy or intolerance

1. Ask if they have a Food Allergy Care Plan (see above) and be sure you know what to do if they have a reaction.

2. As a grandparent, you may want to keep hold of a spare Epipen (if prescribed for your grandchild) in case of emergencies.

3. For more information about children and allergies, do take a look at my website.

Send me your questions about allergies, food, nutrition and eating well as I’ll be answering your queries in a special Q&A session.

By Jane Clarke

Twitter: @NourishByJane

Pittcity Wed 26-Jul-17 22:06:01

I have an intolerance to artificial sweeteners. They give me hangover-like symptoms. I find it hard to find food, drink and medicines that contain real sugar only or no sugar at all.
Am I alone in finding so-called healthier alternatives unhealthy?

gillybob Thu 27-Jul-17 10:12:05

Hi Jane

A bit of an odd one for you here;

I love humus but I seem to be terribly allergic to it. Whenever I eat it (within seconds) my tongue breaks out in painful red lumps and my tongue swells up. Once I stop eating and have a cool drink the breakout settles down and within an hour or two it is as though it never happened. I know I am silly and should just accept that there is something in humus that doesn't agree with me but as I said I do like it very much. I wonder if it could be the chickpeas that I am allergic to? I eat garlic, olive oil etc. in plenty other dishes and it doesn't effect me.

cangran Thu 27-Jul-17 11:24:56

Both my son and 6yo grandson (his nephew - my son calls him his 'food tester!') have an allergy to peanuts. I look after my grandson occasionally and he always has a bag with an Epipen. It's not had to be used to date, only anti-histamine. I am a little nervous of having to administer the Epipen so my question is really how to do it and can it be injected anywhere on his arm? And I presume I'd only need to do this if the allergic reaction gets worse after giving him anti-histamine?

grandMattie Thu 27-Jul-17 11:54:57

My family are allergic to fish/seafood/shellfish etc., like the OP. I had an intolerance, but was able to have de-sensitising injections - it was a real palaver, but i am able to eat fish/seafood,etc.
I also have an allergice [though not anaphylactic] reaction to any perfumes in skin preparations - make-up, soap, shampoo... makes life a little complicated, but I manage it well.
Are people more allergic these days, or are they more aware of them?

M0nica Thu 27-Jul-17 20:27:44

Gillybob It could be the sesame in the tahini, which is usually an ingredient of hummus. DGD is allergic to sesame, in all forms and other seeds and nuts.

Franka Thu 27-Jul-17 22:41:52

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Elegran Thu 27-Jul-17 23:07:18


MadMaisie Fri 28-Jul-17 08:56:01

Cangran, the Epipen is injected into the central part of the outer thigh. You need to hold the pen in place for 10 seconds to allow the adrenaline to be delivered. This is a single dose and the used pen should go with the child to hospital. If you are anxious about having to do this, perhaps you could speak to your GP Or practice nurse for some more advice.

jessica881 Fri 28-Jul-17 11:00:05

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Elegran Fri 28-Jul-17 11:31:27


NfkDumpling Sat 29-Jul-17 17:37:14

I have an intolerance to garlic. Very slimming. Bloat up and throw up! And these days it's in EVERYTHING! Eating out is becoming so difficult. Luckily I'm fine with onions - but this makes people think I'm telling porkies as they're the same family. I wonder if it's because the garlic used and sold is foreign and stronger?

I've been experimenting with Ransomes (wild garlic) and am fine with the flowers, leaves and stems. (The flowers are delicious.). Best Beloved is going to slip a little bit of a bulb into my dinner when I don't know it's coming - but hasn't dared yet!

Thirdinline Sat 29-Jul-17 18:09:09

It's interesting that you ate a lot of mackerel, strawberries and melon and then developed an allergy to them, Jane. I became sensitive to wheat (although not gluten) and lactose 15 years ago when my life was incredibly stressful and I realise that wheat and dairy products were in practically everything I ate at that time.

I have occasionally tried eating food with wheat or dairy products in since then and now feel that the symptoms they caused are negligible, so am cautiously reintroducing them to my diet. I am far less stressed now too. My question is, is it usual for sensitivities to subside over time? Also, do you think that stress is a factor with food sensitivities?

Nandalot Sat 29-Jul-17 19:07:07

DH is very high maintenance with his food intolerances. Fortunately they only give him a migraine.
It started with chocolate but after suffering from ME for several years he is now intolerant of
sodium nitrate ( all preserved meat e.g. Ham, bacon)
Calcium propitionate ( mould inhibitorbin bread)
l-cysteine flour treatment agent
Monosodium glutamate
I may have forgotten some!
Oh and tomatoes and strawberries make his nose go bright red for days!
All right cooking from scratch but close reading of labels required in supermarket.

Tennisnan Sun 30-Jul-17 03:59:02

A friend said her mum greatly improved her arthritis symptoms after having a food intolerance test and altering her diet. We were sceptical but now DH has osteo arthritis and needs knee replacement. Cld getting tested help improve his symptoms during the 6 month wait for the op? And maybe stop other joints getting affected. Can you recommend where/how to get a genuine test done pls?

gillybob Sun 30-Jul-17 21:31:54

Interesting MOnica I will look into that . Thank you . smile

Norah Mon 31-Jul-17 20:51:47

Gilly, hummus is made of chick peas - garbanzos, salt, pepper, tahini, lemon or lime, a clove of garlic, optional: artichoke, herbs, spinach, tomatoes, and red peppers. Do any of those items make you ill? When you cook chick peas - garbanzos can you eat them? Can you eat garlic? Sesame (Asian food)? Lemon -- etc etc?

NfkDumpling Wed 02-Aug-17 20:08:55

Thanks Norah, I wondered why hummus upset me. Garlic strikes again! I thought hummus was just chickpeas with salt, pepper and lemon.

NanKate Thu 03-Aug-17 06:27:55

Our youngest grandson has allergies to egg, fish, all seeds, and coconut. Even though he is only 4 he copes well even when his skin erupts with eczema.

We have details of his medication but I worry I will gave to use his epipen one day.

So here are my questions

1. Is an epipen easy to use on a child, any tips please?
2. Do children usually grow out of allergies ?


NanKate Thu 03-Aug-17 06:29:02

Have not gave, this annoying predictive text !

BlueBelle Sat 05-Aug-17 20:57:00

My granddaughter is allergic to chocolate, even cocopops, mouth swells up Its only happened since puberty she used to love her chocolate

Sparkle199 Sun 13-Aug-17 19:57:05

I have fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and asthma. Think I'm intolerant or allergic to sulphites, always react if I drink wine especially or alcohol, dried fruits too. Also react to dust and some perfumes!

JoyBloggs Mon 14-Aug-17 11:38:52

When sudden-onset dairy/lactose intolerance follows a bout of diverticulitis is it likely to be permanent?
When attempting to gradually re-introduce dairy items which foods would you recommend that are least likely to cause problems?
Thank you!

LauraGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 18-Aug-17 12:12:04

We've now sent your questions over to Jane - please look out for her responses coming very soon! smile

JaneClarke Wed 23-Aug-17 13:54:42


I have an intolerance to artificial sweeteners. They give me hangover-like symptoms. I find it hard to find food, drink and medicines that contain real sugar only or no sugar at all.
Am I alone in finding so-called healthier alternatives unhealthy?

Hi Pittcity. You are not alone – quite a few patients of mine notice they don’t feel so well when they consume artificial sweeteners, and they can be difficult to avoid as the amount in our foods appears to be on the increase. Have you tried keeping a log of which sweeteners seem to upset you the most? They do differ, so it’s well worth reading food packaging labels for a couple of weeks and keeping a note of what you’re consuming and when, and how they make you feel, and trying to identify which sweetener upsets you the most. You may also find that you’re more sensitive at different times of the day, or that the amount of sweetener you take in influences whether you experience intolerance symptoms.

Although not a hard and fast rule, you may find that organic products are more likely to use less artificial sweetener as some of the passionate small suppliers prefer to keep the sweetness as sugar rather than a synthetic alternative. Depending on your intolerance symptoms, you might like to discuss with your doctor if eating too much artificial sweetener causes your body to react by producing too much histamine. In which case, you could discuss having some antihistamine medication to hand for when your symptoms flair up.