Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia release an advertising campaign to encourage anyone who suspects they may have an allergy to consult their allergist, immunologist, paediatrician or GP for personalised treatment and care.
Sussan Ley, before she became federal health minister, was criss-crossing regional NSW in campaign mode when she started feeling horrible and morphed into the “elephant man”.
“Something in me knew something was going badly wrong,” she recalled at the launch of National Allergy Week in Sydney on Monday. “I swelled up, my throat constricted and the person who was driving said to me: ‘You look dreadful, you look like the elephant man’.”
Health Minister Sussan Ley has announced more funding for the National Allergy Strategy. Photo: Andrew Meares
Ms Ley shared her story as she announced a $550,000 funding boost for the National Allergy Strategy, which aims to standardise drug allergy management, better equip young sufferers and educate restaurant and cafe workers.
At present, one in five Australians are affected by an allergic disease and one in 10 babies born each year – about 30,000 – have a food allergy.
Ms Ley was driven at 140km/hr to a Guyra hospital in northern NSW where she received an adrenalin shot.
About 30,000 Australian babies are born with a food allergy each year. Photo: Getty Images
“I had a happy ending … what strikes me is the stress, concern, anxiety and the heartache these conditions bring to families,” she said.
Dr Richard Loh, co-chair of the National Allergy Strategy, welcomed the extra funding, saying new data revealed the number of allergy-related deaths in Australia was increasing by 10 per cent each year.
“[The funding] will mean a reduction in misdiagnosis and unnecessary prescriptions and investigations and, most importantly, a reduction in allergic reactions and improved emergency treatment when they do happen, potentially saving lives,” he said.
New research showed teenagers with food allergy are four times more likely to report having asthma than those without, sparking fears an anaphylactic reaction could be mistaken for an asthma attack, leading to a delay in the administration of a life-saving adrenaline auto injector.
The strategy will also target the restaurant and catering industry, where some hold onto the myth “a little bit won’t hurt”.
Dr Preeti Joshi, a paediatric allergist and immunologist, said her youngest daughter suffered an anaphylactic reaction when she ate an ice-cream, which the shop owner assured her only consisted of fruit, sugar and ice.
A few minutes after a “big lick”, her daughter, who has an egg allergy, couldn’t breathe or stand. She was treated in hospital.
“We went back to the shop the next day… and the owner still wouldn’t admit to having any egg in the product until I said I would have to get the ingredients analysed,” she said.
“It was only at that point she relented and said she had added egg white, ‘but only a little bit’, she assured me.
“This illustrates a lack of education and understanding in the food industry, a myth that a little bit won’t hurt or that people are making an unnecessary fuss or following a food fad.”
Maria Said, president of Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia, said Australia was the “allergy capital of the world”, with hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions quadrupling in the last 20 years.
“Eating food outside the home, even in healthcare facilities, is currently a bigger risk than it should be,” she said.
“There’s nothing more soul destroying than a parent speaking of loss as a result of anaphylaxis when an allergic reaction could have been prevented.”