One woman in the U.K. who is allergic to nuts was left paralyzed and brain damaged after accidentally eating nuts at a restaurant—and her family is speaking out about her experience.
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Amy May and her parents Sue and Roger recently went on the British show ITV This Morning to talk about the devastating incident. According to Sue, Amy was on a trip to Budapest with her friends in 2014 when she ordered a meal at a restaurant.
Amy, who was 26 at the time, told the wait staff about her allergy, showed them an allergy information card printed in the local language that said she had a potentially fatal allergy, and was assured several times that the food she ordered was nut-free.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
According to the website for the Amy May Trust, Amy suffered anaphylaxis (a severe and acute allergic reaction that can cause a person’s throat to close, among other things) after taking her first bite of food.
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“The reaction was so severe that Amy suffered a cardiac arrest,” the site reads. “With her friends watching helplessly, paramedics fought to save Amy’s life in the road outside of the restaurant, she was then rushed to the Peterfy Hospital in Budapest and immediately put into an induced coma.”
Amy suffered a severe brain injury due to a lack of oxygen and she was put on a life-support machine. After three weeks in a hospital in Budapest, she was airlifted back to her native Britain, where she was hospitalized for 11 months. She’s now undergoing therapy, is wheelchair bound, and is unable to speak, even though she can understand what people say.
Her story is terrifying for anyone with a severe food allergy, and for those who have children with a nut allergy.
“While food allergies overall affect about 4 percent of U.S. population, we have found a three-fold increase in peanut allergies over the last few decades,” says Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist/immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network.
As with most allergies, there are varying degrees of severity and symptoms, including nasal and eye symptoms, hives, skin redness, itchiness, swelling of the mouth, face, and/or throat, as well as trouble breathing and wheezing, says Clifford Bassett, M.D., founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York and author of The New Allergy Solution: Supercharge Resistance, Slash Medication, Stop Suffering.
Some people may only experience vomiting, diarrhea, and discomfort, he adds, but for others, the consequences are much worse.
"Food allergy is the most common cause of anaphylaxis and data indicates that every three minutes a person is seen in an ER for a severe food reaction resulting in anaphylaxis," Bassett says.
Amy’s family said that two EpiPens were used on their daughter after she ate nuts, which sounds like a lot, but isn’t uncommon.
“Anaphylaxis is a severe multi-organ reaction and often patients need multiple doses of epinephrine for survival,” Parikh says, adding that that’s why she advises all of her patients to carry at least two EpiPens at all times.
If you or a loved one has a nut allergy, Parikh recommends being “extremely proactive” about the allergy.
“Do not be afraid to be vocal, ask questions, and advocate for yourself,” she says.
She also recommends carefully vetting all places where you eat and, if possible, bringing your own food that you know is safe when you travel.
“Sadly, the general public may not take allergies seriously and even if they do, mistakes get made,” she says. “With food allergy, someone else's error can cost you your life.”
This article first appeared on Women's Health.