Friday, September 29, 2006

New Scientist hype

The New Scientist has been engaged in a great deal of hype about allergy cures recently. Odd for a respected magazine of science.

This week's is a report on the work of a company in Zurich. These people are trying to tweak the immune system to believe it is being attacked by organisms called mycobacteria. Apparently we do not encounter these very often.

They are reporting some success with initial trials of patients with house dust mite allergy and with pollen allergy. The question is whether this drug could be a permanent cure. Apparently its developers believe it could be.

However a few weeks ago the same magazine made a big deal of a guy who went to the British Association for the Advancement of Science's annual festival and talked about developing a vaccine within ten years. Maybe the Swiss people contacted them after that report.

Forgive my scepticism but long before I ever suspected I had a problem I knew a scientist who was developing an allergy vaccine. It was brilliant science but so far as I know never happened - even though a biotech company was set up to develop it.

The recent fiasco in London at Northwick Park Hospital where six human volunteers nearly died after taking an experimental immune system based drug highlights the problem.

The Swiss drug appears to have got beyond this stage but the reality is there is a whole spectrum of promising medical science around the immune system that is advancing much slower than was ever feared. It is because we are dealing with a massively complex, little understood system and tinkering with one bit can have unforeseen consequences - or simply prove a lot more difficult than thought.

I will post a link to the story when it is on-line.

Allergic to communion?

A heck of a week as I've been taking double doses of anti-histamines daily and that has meant a great deal of difficulty waking up in the morning.

I am bemused as to what it could be as I have stuck rigorously to my diet all week. Most disturbingly the problem of an inflamed eye which I had before diagnosis - and doing something about the problem - has returned, on and off. There is also inflammation and ulcers around the gums. More of that on another occasion perhaps.

I've been to a couple of buffets and been as cautious as possible.

Here are some clues:
communion bread - the merest crumb;
communion wine;
gluten-free gravy - contains unspecified vegetable protein;
pink salmon;
avocados with rape seed oil, daily for lunch.

As I cooked an omelette and bacon the other night with rape seed oil I tend to discard that.

So really bad news, it looks like avocado. Certainly today the symptoms seemed to return straight after lunch. That's bad news and suggest that new allergens are popping up sporadically. Can that happen? Surely it can as the whole business has just occurred out of the blue.

At the moment I am surviving mentally by believing it's all not going to last for very long, like flu. Because it is beginning to feel as though there may be very few foods I can eat. And what am I going to do about communion? Buy gluten free bread for the church every week - it would have to be weekly because the stuff does not last. In fact a sealed loaf I bought the other day was already mouldy.

As we are now in autumn, I am also wondering what happens when I get flu or even a cold. After all I'm already on anti-histamines. Are they symptomless or what?

I had a pleasant letter from the specialist earlier this week, copied to the GP. Clearly he tends to favour tomato as the main cause. He also suspects that tomato exclusion and even wheat exclusion will not be enough. Oh dear!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

First spag bol fatality

The first known death from tomato allergy was apparently less than two years ago when Raya French, aged 37, from Kent, UK, died after opening a tin of spag bol.

It makes you pause for thought. When I first suffered mouth problems I didn't for a minute suspect tomato nor did my GP. I've had a letter from the consultant now and he clearly thinks tomato is the main suspect. I still think wheat is also a factor for me - and I carried on consuming tomotoes and tomato sauce for some time after going to see the doctor. It is as if tomato kicked in as the worst problem a bit later - and it does seem pretty lethal.

Some speculation: what if something has happened recently to make common foods, like tomato, lethal? Genetic modification perhaps? It's still far-fetched but I, for one, am going to bear it in mind.

How do I know wheat is still a problem? My wife cooked a rice and mince concoction the other day and was quite convinced it was okay. Once I had removed the hot dogs I though so too - largely because I was sure she said she used wheat-free gravy. So it was little surprising that symptoms began. But then she admitted to using Oxo - first listed ingredient...wheat flour.

Either way I'm definitely allergic to Italian food.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

On the road

I've been on the road for a couple of days and this poses a whole new set of challenges.

I thought I would grab a motorway meal before arriving at my destination on Sunday. When I looked at the choice I thought a chicken curry would provide a safe alternative. Rashly I ignored the redness of the sauce as I ordered my chicken tikka massala. Of course a curry conceals the effects in the mouth and the throat - but when these lingered for the rest of the day, I realised I had made a mistake.

I was chatting to someone yesterday and he confirmed for me that tikka massala has a tomato base.

Then I went for a meal with some people at an Italian restaurant. As I appear to be allergic to all Italian food that was going to be challenging.

The menu was diverse and I had an avocado and seafood salad and a lamb dish. I had to drink carrot juice and resist the wine. I thought I was safe and took an extra anti-histamine beforehand to ensure.

But it was also clear these people like their tomato and I had to remove sliced tomato from the salad. Maybe that explains the bad night I had - or maybe it was the large glass of wine I accepted at the end of the evening.

I've also become concerned about the levocetirizine. I've gone from sleeping excessively deeply to sleeping lightly, yet it doesn't seem to prevent occasional and unwanted episodes of severe drowsiness. Today I reverted to one of my pharmacy tables. I wonder if I can mix and match. I will have to take a levocetirizine tomorrow when I am driving home.

Friday, September 15, 2006

At work

Well, I've taken the plunge at work. I had to after starving through a buffet today as it consisted entirely of sandwiches, wraps and somozas.

The kitchens and other key people are being told I need wheat and tomato free if I am attending an event with a buffet. As I occupy quite a senior position this will be done. All I need is a bowl of fruit or a banana and apple.

I've seen a consultant!

It was all a little tight as the roads flooded yesterday morning and the NHS is notorious. Miss your appointment and you could be waiting months for the next.

I failed to make the check-in ten minutes early, as ordered, but was there at 930 with seconds to spare. It took a while to find the "check in" desk on the second floor as the elevator only went up one floor. The appointment was in a new Treatment Centre.

The receptionist was polite and efficient but unsmiling and unreassuring.

The doctor was terrific. Almost his first words were "these guys are often brief but this is one of the briefest I've had", about the GP note.

He gave me a demonstration on using the Epipen and stressed that "nobody has ever died who carried an Epipen" and "I've never lost anyone yet and you're not going to be my first."

He ordered tests for about ten different substances and promised to call me if the tests threw up anything unexpected. We discussed anti-histamines and I said I was concerned I had been suffering losses of concentration when driving. He gave me a prescription for an alternative anti-histamine, levocetirizine, and told me that although they are one a day I could take up to three. Apparently had I lived across the local authority border he could not have done this but he is allowed to prescribe for people from my area!

Then on to the phlebotomy centre for a blood sample to be taken. The nurse - or practitioner, possibly, I imagine - took two phials of blood. I felt I should have offered a further pint for the blood transfusion service while we were doing it.

Unfortunately I thought it might be helpful to break my diet in advance of the appointment. So on Wednesday I had a brown bread sandwich and then for breakfast, just before going, two slices of toast.

So for about 48 hours I have had to put up with all sorts of things, including the pain in my eye - which I have not had for months. So I took an extra levocetirizine.

The drug is certainly an improvement. Its lack of side effects is a little unnerving. I've got used to sleeping very deeply and to falling in a sort of dreamland, which is so realistic that waking up can be incredibly confusing.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Eating scraps

On Friday I was promised a buffet at an event and turned up to find sandwiches. I had a couple of pieces of lettuce and emptied the meat out of one sandwich. Then I realised I had also eaten a slice of tomato.

When I got home I found the rest of the family dining on Kentucky Fried Chicken. It's battered so forbidden. They had over-ordered on chips so there were some of them left.

But what can you throw together to go with Kentucky chips? In the end, desperate, I raided my old stock of chili con carne from the leader. These particular tins are thrown together with wheat flour. Still with chili, it can mask a lot of problems, including burning of the mouth.

So some sign of reactions but nothing serious, thankfully.

Tonight my wife insisted on having pizza. Great! She persuaded me to try cooking some quinoa - think that's spelt correctly - a South American grain like seed which a vegetarian friend recommended and is supposedly packed with protein and vitamins.

Made the mistake of trying the recipe on the packet, which suggested cooking it in orange juice with dried fruit. It sounded delicious. The stuff is meant to swell to four times its size, like rice.

The recipe said 30 minutes but after an hour, and several top ups with water, I gave up and consumed the mush I had cooked. Topped with cheese it was okay - although not worth the trouble. Next time I will cook it like risotto - in water with flavourings added.

With all that semi-cooked seed in me, I feared a tummy ache but it hasn't come, thankfully.

Anyway I have just found the Quinoa Corporation's site and nowhere does it suggest cooking the stuff in anything but water. Oh well, properly cooked quinoa is a treat waiting for me.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

An organic health bar

I found something else I purchased several weeks ago from the "free from" section. This was a pack of wheat free breakfast bars. Normally these things are made from whole grain and are an incredibly healthy snack, especially for people who skip meals.

These bars are made from nuts and seeds and cranberry and are delicious. So I had one for a late night snack last night. Bear in mind, my lips were still quite bruised from Sunday's gateau - bruised is probably the best way the to describe the way they went. Well some 24 hours later there' s still tingling and a sort of swelling around the throat and tongue. Cranberries are of course a red fruit. So it's either the cranberries or something that was used to glaze the spare ribs my wife brought home last night. I'm going to finish those bars regardless.

There's getting to be too much I can't eat. And it's odd the way tomatoes seemed to kick in as a problem some weeks after the problems started. I've been unable to find any references to underlying illnesses on the Net, my substitute doctor - but who knows.

Eight days to the hospital appointment.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Lapses of taste

A few weeks ago I purchased a gluten-free pot noodle - actually Mexican rice rather than noodle. I got it out for lunch on Friday and then realised it contained tomato. What the heck, I thought, I'm not wasting it and consumed it. So that afternoon my lips swelled etcetera.

By Sunday lunchtime, today, the symptoms had gone and my wife put a chocolate gateau on the table. Well, by now it's clear tomato is a problem so maybe it was always tomato rather than wheat. And I have not eaten chocolate gateau for ages. In fact I really miss it. So I had one slice and then a second. It was delicious, the most delicious thing I have eaten for months, although I could have done with cream and ice cream with it. My wife had purchased an artificial cream made of vegetable fat so I passed on that.

So my lips swelled this afternoon and my throat thickened and other symptoms showed themselves and now my tongue is starting to numb. So apparently I am allergic to Italian food, both wheat and tomato, spag bol and pizza. I wonder what the doctors will make of that.

Friday, September 01, 2006


Maybe I can breathe easy now. It's all a load of nonsense, according to a Professor Colver, from Newcastle today.

According to Professor Colver, in the British Medical Journal, most people with food allergies are in little danger and far too many people are being issued with adrenaline injectors (the Epipen).

He is referring to children (and over-anxious parents) but claims there were only eight deaths between 1990 and 2000.

At least one other professor, a Professor Hourihane, disagrees and I don't suppose the people who did the other research, showing the problem on the increase, would agree either.

Well, it's been fun having an injector all summer and quite handy for explaining why I seem to be nit-picking food sometimes. Two sticks of celery and two cherry tomatoes was quite a hard lunch to explain. My problem is I have no idea how bad things could have got - although one or two encounters with insects proved quite scary. Did the anti-histamines make a difference or did the diet or have I just been at the mercy of seasonal pollen?