This is Lauren, she's a healthy 7 years old who loves her brother Ben and pet rat Cloudy. At the age of 3 Lauren started feeling unwell and vomited after eating walnut bread. For her mum Terri, a nut allergy didn't even cross her mind. Lauren had eaten peanuts and almonds before with no reaction. After a bit of rest, Lauren seemed back to normal and Terri didn't think about it any further.
Only 6 months later, after eating cake with walnuts, Lauren again reacted, this time with a funny feeling in her throat. Again, she vomited and after a bit of rest seemed fine. But this time, Terri put two and two together and a skin prick test confirmed that Lauren was severely allergic to both walnuts and pecans.
Terri says that the diagnosis was very hard to take. "My husband and I didn't know how to feed her or even keep her safe! And when the allergist slid an EpiPen across the table, telling me we'd need to have one with us from now on, it was really a shock."
One of the biggest issues Terri faced was that many people didn't understand just how serious Lauren's allergy was. Often friends and family members would say 'surely a little bit won't hurt.'
After that first diagnosis, they set about learning everything they could about how to manage Lauren's allergy like how to avoid contamination and read food labels and they even banished nuts altogether. But after the blood test confirmed that only walnuts and pecans were an issue, they were persuaded not to avoid nuts altogether and have cautiously taken smalls steps to introduce other nuts in moderation.
Recent research suggests that avoiding all nuts is unnecessary. Most people with a peanut allergy aren't allergic to tree nuts—almonds, cashews, walnuts and the like—while most people who are allergic to a particular tree nut can safely eat others.
Six months ago, after some encouraging skin prick test results, Lauren undertook a food challenge, where a small amount of walnut was introduced in a hospital setting, to see if she might be outgrowing her allergy. Unfortunately, she reacted almost immediately, to the smallest amount of walnut.
"We know Lauren might never outgrow this allergy", says Terri, "and we just have to take care and not allow her to go anywhere without antihistamines and an EpiPen.
We also have to help Lauren to manage the anxiety she now faces because of her allergy. She's scared of eating away from home in case she is exposed to walnut or pecans and we don't want her to be afraid."
Lauren's family would love to see more funding for research into desensitisation for common food allergies and research to identify if there are ways to prevent allergies in unborn children.
The more quality allergy research we can get funded, the quicker we can drive developments to cure, treat and prevent allergies.
Go to www.allergyimmunology.org.au/donate to make your tax deductible donation to help children like Lauren.
Content updated 31 May 2017