Tucking into her favourite snack after work one day, Rachel Skelton, 45, had no idea it was about to land her in hospital.
Biting into a cracker topped with cheese and tomato, the mum-of-two suddenly felt her face and throat swell.
‘We lived just around the corner from Casey Hospital, in Victoria, so I drove myself straight there,’ she told that’s life!
‘By the time I arrived, my face had blown up like a balloon and I could barely see.’
Doctors immediately treated Rachel for anaphylactic shock - explaining she had had a severe allergic reaction to something she had eaten. But Rachel had never had an allergic reaction like it before, and no matter what they tried they couldn’t figure out what had triggered it.
‘Over the next six months, I wound up in hospital two to three times a week with anaphylactic shock. Doctors tried to rule out the cause by eliminating different foods from my diet,’ Rachel explained.
‘I had countless blood and skin-prick tests, as well as biopsies to find the cause. But doctors were stumped.’
Finally, four years after her first hospitalisation - Rachel saw a specialist who was able to pin down the cause of her distress - oral allergy syndrome.
‘He explained it was a food allergy where my body would mistake raw fruits and vegetables for pollen, causing a severe anaphylactic reaction,’ says Rachel.
Suddenly, Rachel learned that all the foods that she would eat to try and stay healthy were actually causing her to have a life-threatening allergic reaction.
'I couldn’t believe all these healthy foods could now cost me my life.'
‘Dr Unglik put together a list of foods I should avoid - no apples, carrots, peanuts, strawberries, peas, potatoes, beans or spices. And simply touching capsicum, tomato or citrus fruits, like lemons or oranges, could be deadly.’
Even visiting the grocery section of the supermarket and smelling these fresh foods could set her off, and she takes a daily cocktail of around 40 pills to help manage her conditions. She also carries an EpiPen everywhere she goes.
Thankfully with the support of her family, Rachel has found it easier to cope.
‘I’ve learned to live with it as best I can. No matter what life throws my way, I will continue to fight. At least I’ve now got the perfect excuse to give up diets for good!’ she laughs.
Read more of Rachel's story in Issue 49 of that's life!...