When Rachel Skelton, 45, from Queensland, sat down to have some cheese and tomato on crackers one evening, she had no idea how much her life was about to change.
Speaking to That’s Life!, Ms Skelton explained how within seconds, she felt her throat beginning to swell and she was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe.
The mother-of-two raced to the hospital and by the time she had arrived her face was so swollen, she could barely see – the terrified mother sure she was going to die.
Rachel Skelton, 45, from Queensland, has oral allergy syndrome and can’t eat fruits or vegetables
‘The doctor explained that I was in anaphylactic shock and I was given an adrenalin injection… immediately my airways started to clear,’ Ms Skelton told That’s Life!, adding that at that time, she wasn’t aware of any allergies.
However, over the years Ms Skelton found herself in and out of hospital and experienced severe bloating when she ate some foods.
As time passed, Ms Skelton noticed her health deteriorating even more and found herself in hospital two to three times a week with anaphylactic shock.
‘Doctors tried to rule out the cause by eliminating different foods from my diet. No matter what I avoided though, the scary attacks continued to happen,’ she explained.
Before and after: Ms Skelton is pictured left before her reaction and right after eating raw fruits or vegetables with a swollen face
Tragic: Ms Skelton, who started ordering groceries online, was also later diagnosed with chronic autoimmune angiodema and uticaria – a condition where her immune system would break out in hives
Terrified of eating, Ms Skelton endured years of blood tests and biopsies in a desperate attempt to find out what her allergy was… until a renowned immunologist, Dr Gary Unglik, figured it out.
Four years after her first episode, Ms Skelton was told she had oral allergy syndrome – an incurable ‘pollen food syndrome’ where the body mistakes fruits and vegetables as pollen or some kind of threat.
Each time Ms Skelton ate raw fruits and vegetables, it would trigger a severe anaphylactic reaction.
Ms Skelton was also told that the allergy was likely triggered by a minor operation she had shortly before her first reaction.
Oral allergy syndrome, also known as pollen-food syndrome,is caused by cross-reacting allergens found in both pollen and raw fruits, vegetables, or some tree nuts. The immune system recognizes the pollen and similar proteins in the food and directs an allergic response to it. People affected by oral allergy syndrome can usually eat the same fruits or vegetables in cooked form because the proteins are distorted during the heating process, so that the immune system no longer recognizes the food.
Oral allergy syndrome typically does not appear in young children; the onset is more common in older children, teens, and young adults who have been eating the fruits or vegetables in question for years without any problems. Those with oral allergy syndrome typically have allergy to birch, ragweed, or grass pollens.
Positive: ‘No matter what life throws my way, I will continue to fight. At least I’ve now got the perfect excuse to give up diets for good!’ Ms Skelton said
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‘I broke down… no apples, carrots, peanuts, strawberries, peas, potatoes, beans or spices. And simply touching capsicum, tomato or citrus fruits, like lemons or oranges could be deadly,’ she said.
Ms Skelton was also told that she could not even visit supermarkets as it was too much of a risk.
Unusually, as long as the foods were cooked, it wouldn’t be a problem.
Ms Skelton, who started ordering groceries online, was also later diagnosed with chronic autoimmune angiodema and uticaria – a condition where her immune system would break out in hives – as well as cell activation disorder and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome where her joints constantly dislocate.
Despite this, Ms Skelton is trying to stay positive and is required to take more than 40 pills each day to control her condition.
‘No matter what life throws my way, I will continue to fight. At least I’ve now got the perfect excuse to give up diets for good!’ Ms Skelton said.