EACH time mum-of-two Stephanie Thakrar leaves her house, she risks her life.
The 34-year-old has multiple allergies and suffers with severe anaphylaxis which means she can have an extreme reaction to an allergen being in the air rather than having to eat or touch it which means even a stroll to the shops could kill her.
She has gone into anaphylactic shock 10 times due to her allergies which are so sensitive that simply cutting pineapple, opening a packet of nuts or spraying beauty product in the same room as her could cause her airways to close.
It means she hates leaving her Southampton home which is tiled floor to ceiling and immaculately clean and she has to wear a mask and gloves to protect against her allergies which include fruit, dust, nuts, perfume, tanning of leather, rubber and latex.
Her husband and children have to wash before kissing her and she can no longer work to avoid symptoms which include heart palpitations, severe rashes and at worst being unable to breathe.
“I know for some people it’s a lot to take in: the woman who’s allergic to everything. There should be a bubble around me.
“Every day is a battle for me. It is like I have to fight to survive.
“When I do go out, I put myself at risk so now I don’t go out unless I have to. I am lucky I am not dead.
“Whether someone passes me wearing Lynx or perfume, I can’t breathe, or at friends’ houses a bit of Mr Muscle and you may as well phone the ambulance because I cannot breathe. I can’t control what’s in the air. I could die if my airways don’t open up again, I just hope they will.
“My house is my safe haven. It’s the safest place for me,” says Stephanie who has stayed in for the past three weeks on steroids after a severe reaction.
“How I describe it is that my daughter is into Toy Story and I am like the Woody doll with the pull string. When I have a reaction it’s like someone is sucking the life out of me. It is very frightening. You don’t know how a reaction will pan out.
“My allergies control my life.”
Stephanie’s allergic reactions have got progressively worse over the years – she has developed more allergies and now goes into anaphylactic shock more quickly.
But it wasn’t until 2007 she was diagnosed.
Previously medics put her severe symptoms down to eczema.
However she had a severe reaction to a nut and when she was rushed to hospital, she underwent a number of tests which revealed her numerous allergies.
“I don’t know how I survived child birth. I’ve been tested for everything and my hospital file is as big as an encyclopaedia. I’ve always used steroid creams because I used to get big boils on my hands but I didn’t realise I had so many allergies. It didn’t make sense all these years.
“I get it all – I feel like the Nutty Professor sometimes.”
Her allergies have become so extreme Stephanie was made redundant from her job as a family support worker for the NHS four months ago.
She says due to her allergies she was off sick 165 days out of 365 last year.
And now Stephanie who takes medication every day and constantly carries a medical kit and EpiPen to inject herself with adrenalin, fears she will never work again.
Even a trip to the supermarket where she has to religiously check each label on everything from toilet paper to kitchen cleaners is traumatic.
“I cry in the supermarket. Everyone stares at me and in the summer people point because I wear gloves and I have to wrap up. It makes me feel very self conscious.”
However for Stephanie it’s how her multiple allergies affect her personal relationships that gets her down the most.
If she is invited to a restaurant or social gathering, she has to call ahead to check the menus and ask if there will be any balloons or anything that may trigger an attack.
“I feel like I’m a burden to my family and I feel like I’m a burden to other people because your condition is affecting other people and how they want to live there life. Everything has to be checked.”
She cannot go into a hairdressers or beauty salon due to the products, has been forced to stand in the garden at friends when they have accidentally cooked food in the kitchen she is allergic to like green peppers and some restaurants have told her after she has supplied her list of allergies that she is too high risk to eat there.
“All the girly things, I can’t do any of it. It’s always feeling left out no matter what I’m doing.”
But for Stephanie it is how her allergies affect home life with her husband who is a self-employed tiler and two daughters aged 14 and eight which is devastating.
“There is no romance in this house. He comes in the house, has to brush his teeth, wash, strip off then it’s darling hi, kiss.
“That’s the thing nobody can come in and cuddle or kiss me, they might have eaten something or touched something I am allergic to and that could cause a reaction. I hate how I can’t kiss my husband and he can’t be impulsive.
“My husband has had to tie my hands when I have slept before because I’ve made myself bleed from scratching myself. He has to spray his deodorant outside, my daughters can’t paint their nails or spray anything.
“It’s not a life to have. I hate it. I hate how it controls everything.
“The hardest thing is I’ve had to tell my eight-year-old not to come near me at times, like when she has played with Loom bands or had a balloon, just so I can get home safely.
“My youngest watches Lego Ninjago and she said to me ‘I can get this special medicine that the ninja’s got mum and it will heal you and it could heal all the allergies’, I said ‘that would be amazing’ I feel like I am letting my family down.”
However Stephanie, who is supported by Allergy UK, is determined not to let her allergies ruin her life, and for her it’s important to laugh about it.
“I’ve started rollerbooting with my girlfriends because I can’t go to the gym and we do have a laugh. I’m there with my mask on and they say come on Hannibal Lecture, I can have a joke about it and I have to because otherwise I would be crying all the time.”
Now she hopes by telling her story more awareness is raised surrounding people with allergies.
She says latex alone “You should never judge a book by its cover. There’s a lack of understanding, lack of awareness and I hope by telling my story that changes. My life could be made a lot easier if attitudes changed.”
- Allergy UK is the leading medical charity providing advice, information and support to those with allergies and food intolerances. For more information go to http://www.allergyuk.org or call 01322 619898.