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02 Jul 2020

Personal Injury

World Allergy Week – The impact of severe allergies

This week is World Allergy Week, running from 28 June - 4 July 2020. Each year, the World Allergy Organization (WAO) addresses a different topic that has a need for greater awareness and this year is no different. Even with the current situation, it is still important to have discussions and share information.

Ken Thomas, one of our Partners, and his daughter Meg (who is a student with a severe egg allergy) are aware of the impacts a severe allergy can have on day to day life. In this blog, they answer some questions about life with an allergy, and how lawyers can help food allergy sufferers.

What impact does the allergy have on a day to day basis?
On a day to day basis my allergy impacts my life physically, mentally and socially. Daily, I am faced with mild allergic reactions as I come into contact with egg on surfaces and in the air as egg is cooked. This has been especially difficult when living in shared accommodation with other fellow students, for example it is hard to prevent people from eating what they want to eat even though it may contain egg and have to be cooked in a shared kitchen. This leads to quite a bit of anxiety surrounding mealtimes and can strain friendship. Having an allergy also makes eating outside of the home stressful. When abroad this problem is heightened as language barriers and differing attitudes towards allergies make it very difficult.

Do you have an example of a very severe reaction?
There have been several severe reactions over the years as egg is present in many different foods. One severe reaction which stands out was caused by cross-contamination of egg in a boiled rice dish, that I ordered in a Chinese restaurant. Whilst eating my meal, I started to notice the first symptoms of an allergic reaction as my tongue started to tingle and swallowing started to feel uncomfortable. After voicing my worst fears, myself and my family had to quickly pay and leave our meals in the restaurant so that we could get home, before the worst of my reaction began. By the time we had arrived home my reaction was in full swing, and I could barely move due to the severe stomach cramps. Gradually I went into anaphylactic shock, was unable to move and had to rely heavily on my asthma inhaler to keep breathing. At this point I was driven to A&E and was immediately taken care of by the doctor and nurses.

What changes have you seen over the years to the approach to allergies?
When I was younger, chips were just about the only thing I could order off the menus whenever we ate out, as allergy guides were very rarely provided within restaurants. When staff were asked about ingredients, they would often be very reluctant to check. Some eateries are still much better than others, various national chains are very alive to the issue, though a few still continue to make it difficult to eat safely in their outlets. However, more restaurants these days can provide an in-depth allergy list, if you ask for one but there are still restaurants who can’t provide this.

What improvements or changes do you think could be made to improve matters for those who suffer with allergies?
Due to media coverage and legislation, there has been an increase in the awareness and consideration of allergies. However, there is still a lot more that needs to be done and I understand further Regulations are to be brought in by summer 2021. For now, it is imperative that food businesses do all they can to have comprehensive, up-to-date and accurate allergy guides, plus staff who are fully trained to deal with allergy sufferers.

What role do you think Lawyers can play in protecting allergy suffers?
Lawyers have been involved in campaigning to tighten requirements for food labelling. Whilst the food business sector has made big strides over the last few years, sadly some businesses do not take the issue seriously enough. Many allergy sufferers will opt to ‘avoid making a fuss’ but in reality unless formal action is taken then the same mistakes will happen again. Local authorities can take enforcement action but only if they are made aware of such incidents. Bringing a claim for negligence and/or breach of statutory duty is another way of ensuring that food businesses take the needs of allergy sufferers seriously.

While most allergic reactions are relatively minor, unfortunately a significant number are severe and some can even be fatal. If you suffered an allergic reaction to food due to negligence on behalf of one or more parties then contact us today to see how we can help you.

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