It’s Nuts: My Allergy Testing Journey

For the past 30+ years I had a suspicion that I had a nut allergy. I never had any tests for it or anything sensible like that, but have just avoided all nuts for my entire adult life!

The first possible reaction came when I was still pretty little, when I ate a peanut and it made my mouth feel funny. At least I think it did, because my memory these days barely stretches back to last weekend, let alone back to the 1980s!

Over the years I had a bit of a reaction here and there – once I remember my friend giving me a bit of their Pad Thai when I was about 18. I didn’t know at that time that Pad Thai contained peanuts, but obviously it did as within a few minutes my lips and mouth had swollen up a bit, my nose was running, and I just felt like I suddenly had a cold!

Despite the occasional reaction over the years I still never really thought about getting tested. After all, if I just avoided nuts then it wouldn’t really matter too much. And even when I had the reactions they didn’t kill me and the worst of the symptoms generally went away after a few hours, even though they left me feeling rough for the next day or two.

Anyway, fast forward to last year and I was making some peanut butter on toast for Joshua. I had got a tiny bit on my finger and must have touched my face at some stage as within a couple of minutes my lips and inside of my mouth was swelling up a bit again, my nose was screaming, swallowing felt odd and I felt exhausted. Meh.

Still I did nothing about it, apart from refusing to make Joshua peanut butter on toast from then on!

One is the food of kings. The other is the food of the devil. You decide…

The final straw came when I ate some chicken with black bean sauce from the local Chinese takeaway a few days later and I got another reaction. We rang the restaurant up and they said there was definitely no nuts used in the meal – so I booked an appointment with the doctor to find out what was going on. I could happily avoid peanuts but chicken with black bean sauce was another matter entirely!

Talk To Your Doctor

So, I finally spoke to my doctor and he asked a few questions about the reactions I had been getting and suggested that potentially I might have considered coming in a bit sooner…

Fair point, perhaps.

He referred me to an allergy clinic at Frimley Park hospital and sent me off with a prescription for an EpiPen, suggesting than if I felt really bad in future that it was probably worth jabbing myself in the leg rather than just sitting there hoping I wouldn’t keel over.

Allergy Prick Test

A few weeks later I popped along to Frimley Park and they gave me a prick test in an attempt to work out what I had an allergy to, how serious it was and what I should do about it. Basically they draw lots of lines on your arm, and write the names of the various things they want to test you for. They also put a control box for a negative and positive sample to show it’s working correctly and to compare how you react against the controls.

Then they put a drip of the various test samples in the appropriate places on your arm and prick your arm in each box so that the sample literally gets under your skin!

They then set the timer for 15 minutes and leave you to stare intently at your own arm to see what magical lumps appear. Unsurprisingly the positive control will turn into an itchy lump, which in itself it pretty irritating. However, if you then react to any of the other various substances on your arm you will end up with a lumpy, itchy arm which you want to scratch but can’t. It’s a bit like rubbing a stinging nettle down your arm. Not ideal.

Here was my prick test once the fifteen minutes had ended. As you can see, peanuts (top right) and grass (bottom right) are not my friends! However, everything apart from almonds showed up with just a very small positive reaction…

Some blood tests followed to help confirm the results and they advised me not to eat any nuts at all until my follow up appointment. No big deal given I’ve always avoided them anyway.

After a couple of months I went to the follow-up and was told that as the prick test and the blood test gave slightly different results I’d need to have both tests done again. Bugger. And given I had taken a Benadryl for my hayfever that morning I couldn’t have the tests redone that day. Double bugger.

They also told me the next step was to have a challenge test done at Guildford once the tests were complete to see if I could start eating certain types of nut again.

To cut a long story short I had my bloods redone at my doctor’s and booked an appointment at Guildford where they could redo the prick test and carry out the challenge test. And just over a year later I finally had my challenge test today!

Allergy Challenge Test

Given I booked the appointment sooooooo long ago I almost forgot that it was coming up today so only read the details of the appointment letter last week. For some reason in my head I assumed I’d just be getting the prick test done again and maybe have a sample nut rubbed in my face to see what happened.

All the nopes.

Having actually read the letter it turned out I’d be admitted and would be in for about 4 hours. And that I might have a cannula fitted in case I had a severe reaction. And that I needed to bring a bag of hazelnuts with me. And that the appointment was at 9am. Triple bugger.

Anyway, my parents kindly gave me a lift, picking me up at 640am to make it through rush hour on time. I assumed if I had a bad reaction I might not be able to drive home so my parents had a day out and waited in Guildford for me to be finished with the testing.

If you assumed allergy challenge testing would be mildly exciting, it’s really not. Here’s what happens:

  1. Blood pressure and peak flow
  2. Prick test using an actual hazelnut
  3. Wait 15 minutes
  4. Rub hazelnut around lips and gums
  5. Wait 15 minutes
  6. Chew a hazelnut and spit it out
  7. Wait 15 minutes
  8. Eat half a hazelnut
  9. Wait 15 minutes
  10. Eat a whole hazelnut
  11. Wait 15 minutes
  12. Eat 2 hazelnuts
  13. Wait 15 minutes
  14. Eat 4 hazelnuts
  15. Wait 15 minutes
  16. Eat a whole load of hazelnuts
  17. Wait. One. Whole. Hour

Pretty thrilling. Obviously if you do have a reaction at any stage, they don’t keep force feeding you hazelnuts until you have a trout pout and can no longer breathe, so you only move onto the next stage if you feel fine.

And that was it.

I had no reaction to any part of the hazelnut challenge. In fact the only reaction I did nearly have was vomiting over the nurse, as it transpires that hazelnuts are absolutely revolting! Possibly the worse thing I’ve ever had in my mouth, and that includes the numerous shots of Unicum I had on my stag do. 🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮

As unpleasant as you’d expect from the name

So I can now officially eat hazelnuts, meaning that instead of avoiding them for 40 years in case I had an allergy I will now be avoiding them for the next 40 years because they taste of arse. Life changing moment right there.

They said my bloods showed no signs of having an allergy to any nut aside from peanuts so I can now conduct my own challenge tests at home for any other nuts I fancy trying by going through the 17 miserable steps above.

So I could be just a few days away from avoiding a whole range of other nuts because they taste horrible, rather than because they might kill me. That’s definitely progress right?!

Helpful Tips If You Think You Might Have An Allergy

Having now been through the whole process I have a few words of advice if you’re also worried that you might have an allergy to some foodstuff:

  1. See a doctor ASAP rather than waiting 35 years and repeatedly risking death like a muppet
  2. If you get prescribed EpiPens make sure you carry two of them with you. Don’t leave one in a cupboard and the other in your bedside cabinet and forget to take them out anywhere with you for a year like a muppet
  3. Remember the whole process takes most of your adult life to complete so get booking things NOW rather than keep forgetting like a muppet
  4. If you have a bad reaction do something about it, like taking an antihistamine or ringing the NHS helpline. Don’t just wait for the symptoms to hopefully wear off like a muppet
  5. When you get invited to your challenge test actually read the letter well in advance so you know what to expect rather than assuming you’ll be in and out in 30 minutes like a muppet
  6. If you have an allergy tell you family and friends that you have it and where your EpiPens are, so that when you start swelling up and struggling to breath they might actually be able to help you rather than staring at you in confusion as you stand there panicking like a muppet

Anyway, allergies are properly shit, so take them seriously, get yourself checked out, get some EpiPens, talk to your friends and family and BE CAREFUL!

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