Thoko is 13 years old and in Year 8 at Co-op Academy Manchester. She is allergic to beans, nuts and eggs.
She lives with her mum, dad and sister and is the only one with allergies.
Thoko is sharing her story about living with allergies and how it impacts her life every day for Allergy Awareness Week.
This year’s Allergy Awareness Week aims to raise awareness to empower the allergic community, supporting those living with allergies to be positive and confident about managing allergies. We’ve partnered with the Anaphylaxis Campaign and Co-op for their 2021 Allergy Awareness Week campaign.
“When I first got diagnosed I was 4 months old and I had an allergic reaction to powdered milk. They didn’t know what it was so they just sent me back home from the hospital. My mum was really worried about me and what might happen.
When I was in nursery I had an allergic reaction just because someone was sitting next to me with beans. My eyes were swelling up and I had to go to hospital.
Because of this, when I was in primary school I worried that people would eat beans and sit next to me in the cafeteria on purpose, or they might just forget.
It’s something I have to be aware of every day.
People don’t understand how serious allergies are and what can happen. And they don’t recognise the signs of someone going into anaphylactic shock.
Some people also don’t think that allergies can be airborne. They just don’t understand how hard it is to find somewhere to sit where there’s no one eating beans around.
If someone sat near me eating beans I’d get a rash and my throat would start to itch. If they were close to me, my eyes would swell up. I’d have to take my antihistamines until I get home when my mum can give me some stronger medication.
If I go out for a meal with my family I have to ask what the food has got in it, if they can make my food separate and use different utensils. If they don’t have any options for me, I have to go somewhere else. Sometimes I can sense when there’s nuts around and I have to move.
I always have to check food labels. Because my allergies are common ones I can easily see them in bold, but for other people who have allergies that aren’t that common it’s not as obvious.
We didn’t realise I was allergic to eggs until I was 7. I had to get an allergy test where they pricked my skin, to see if I was allergic to certain things. It was like a challenge where we worked my way up the ladder to see what limit I could get to. We found out I can eat eggs in cakes and baked foods but I can’t eat boiled eggs or mayonnaise.
I had an experience in primary school when they were serving meringue, which at the time I didn’t know contained egg. They forgot about my allergy and gave me one. I had quite a mild reaction – tummy ache and I threw it all up. It wasn’t until afterwards they realised what had happened. I had to be sent home and then go to the hospital. This is why it’s so important to put labels on food and double check what ingredients are in things.
I’ve even had a reaction when a plate hadn’t been washed properly and still had some beans on it. The day after, I had to bring in my own plate and cutlery. They didn’t tell me to – I just felt safer doing it. I had to sit in a separate room to eat my lunch because people would keep coming up to me with beans – they thought it was OK because I wasn’t eating them. I was quite sad because I didn’t get to sit with other people and all my friends.
Now I’m at secondary school, I have school dinners. When the kitchen staff put my name into the till system, something pops up on the screen saying what my allergies are – they double check everything to make sure it’s not got things I’m not allowed in before they give it to me. I think it’s a really good system – it pops up in bold all over the screen so they can’t miss it!
When I started in Year 7 my tutor used to put the menu up on the board so I could see what food I could have on that day. I’m in my second year now so I mostly know what I can and can’t have. I think the school manages allergies and other conditions really really well.
I carry an EpiPen but I’ve never had to use it. It makes me feel safe just in case I eat anything that triggers my allergies. It gives me comfort so I know I’m always safe. I also have a spare one in school.
I always tell my friends about my allergies and what to do, just in case I can’t use the EpiPen myself, they know where it is and how they can help.”
“Living with severe allergy can be really difficult – in schools children with allergies can experience bullying and isolation due to their dietary requirements – which is why the Co-op want to support school children to learn more about this invisible disease. Hopefully with better awareness and understanding we can support students and help them look after each other in their community.” – Victoria Knight, Food Technical Manager (Allergen Specialist), Co-op.
Co-op Academy students are learning all about Allergy with training materials provided by Anaphylaxis Campaign and Prof Clare Mills at University of Manchester Allergy Research. To find out more about Allergy Awareness Week click here.