I remember it like it was yesterday; I hugged my dad and then the unimaginable happened – I went into anaphylactic shock. It was so bad I ended up in intensive care. As I started to recover my dad hugged me again and the same thing happened. It was then we all realised it was my dad’s aftershave which had set off the reaction. By Julianne Ponan
I found out I was allergic to many foods at a very young age – when I was a toddler and became very ill at pre school. I was then tested and my daily battle with diet and food began. It soon became clear however that my allergies extended beyond food and when certain substances touched my skin, I had the same reactions as with food allergy. I suspect I was around five years old when this became clear – like most children I liked to try out my mum’s make-up products. As I got older I soon realised I would have to take extra care with any skincare or make-up products.
In my case a reaction tends not to be a rash or itchy skin, it tends to quickly become more serious affecting my breathing and I can go into full anaphylaxis. I have to be so careful. There’s very little warning for me – no preliminary rash, swollen skin or dramatic itching. With me, I start to struggle to breathe as my airway swells and then I get very panicked and we have to take action before my airways close completely.
‘I am scared to try new things particularly around skincare’
Calvin Klein Eternity for Men is an aftershave I cannot tolerate. Now, for example, when travelling overseas I have to be accompanied through any airport duty free area just in case any of the strong aromas set off my allergies. I have to fly overseas quite a lot with work – to shows or to source products or meet suppliers and when flying I am constantly worried someone will eat nuts on planes and I could have a severe anaphylactic reaction. I’ve had numerous incidents where I’ve been told to ‘put up and shut up’ as airline staff will not make an announcement. Huge shout out to Easyjet which has recently announced a blanket ban on nuts on its flights.
I do feel isolated sometimes. I don’t have as many choices as others and I am scared to try new things particularly around skincare and make-up, body lotion, soaps or anything of that nature. I wouldn’t for example go to a friend’s party as I’d spend the whole time worrying.
I always stick with the same brands and never change. That may sound easy, however these brands can change the composition of their products and they don’t make this clear. Several times I’ve forgotten to check and I’ve had a bad reaction, I’ve had to take action to stop an allergic reaction. I wish they’d make it very clear when they do this! At the moment, my main go to brands are Dior, Chanel Chance & Original Source/ Radox.
‘I’m constantly explaining as to why an allergy can be very severe’
I carry an epi pen at all times and what I call an allergy bag that always has antihistamine, antibac wipes and water. This makes me feel safer and means I can act quickly if something happens – or someone with me can act quickly. I ask questions when I’m out and about in shops around any kind of food. This is not always well received. As much of my life focuses around my business Creative Nature I do find networking events are difficult when there’s an expectation of having to shake hands or perhaps hug someone you haven’t seen for a while – I’m reluctant to do that as I don’t know what they have on their skin. I try not to show this and those who know me really well understand it.
I also worry about saying no to trying new food in front of professional colleagues – I will then have to go into a long explanation about my condition which may actually be irrelevant to the reason for our meeting. I find I’m constantly explaining as to why an allergy can be very severe and that I will not just get a rash.
Lemons into lemonade: The launch of Creative Nature Superfoods
When I took over the brand in its original form, the company was selling a range of completely different products. I saw it as an opportunity to try to create snack products where no one has to miss out anymore. The response has been incredible and today our range enables people with any of the top 14 allergens to feel safe in consuming the products. We created our more recent baking mixes because I used to not be able to have birthday cakes as a child due to not being able to guarantee products were allergen free. Also why should I always, as a busy person, have to make my own food from scratch.
The baking mix and snack bars are a safe ‘food on the go’ option for someone like me who gets fed up of always having to do it yourself when it came to cooking for snacking.
There are a range of allergens which can cause anaphylaxis in people like me – the most common are peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish (and any product which contains them) also insect stings can cause them, some prescription drugs can also cause this reaction, particularly if delivered via injection as it’s straight into the blood stream. Here are my 3 top tips for those suffering from allergies:
- Don’t hide away, when you have an allergy speak up and share your stories and challenges. The more people are aware and educated, the better our lives within society will become. It will not be a pain to cater for us and our needs
- Always ensure you carry an Epi-pen – and that people around you know you have one and where it is
- When trying new products try them in a safe place with people who understand around you, they can act quickly if things go wrong