A swell time at the local hospital!

It was brought home to me the other day just how little some medical staff in hospitals know about allergy. Having suffered from food intolerances most of my life, I was alarmed when my throat suddenly started to swell and my breathing became restricted. Panicked, I went to my local A&E.

They decided to give me high-dose steroids and Piriton. Feeling nervous, I asked them three times to make sure the meds contained none of the allergens on the list I had given them as I was terrified it would make things worse, and I was feeling bad enough already! Three times they reassured me all was OK. So I took the medication. After about an hour sitting on my own in a cubicle, my throat improved about 20% and, thinking that was OK and the meds would work over time, I went home.

I suffered for the next 24 hours trying to breathe properly with the feeling of a golf ball stuck in my throat. I thought this couldn’t be right. I was exhausted and very scared. So I Googled the meds and found that they both contained maize starch and lactose – two of my worst allergens. No wonder it wasn’t getting any better – I was lucky it hadn’t got worse. I rang the hospital. No apology was forthcoming but they suggested I contact a pharmacist to see if they had any non-allergenic versions of the meds I needed! Luckily a very helpful Boots pharmacist suggested soluble steroids (I since found out they should have given me injectable steroids at the hospital).

I had to drive to get an emergency prescription from the hospital, then to a pharmacist to dispense it. (No, I am not making this up!) I took them there and then in the pharmacy.

Within 40 minutes, the swelling had completely gone. So simple when you know how. I was lucky I knew enough to check out what they’d given me and to sort it out. What would have happened if they had made it worse – a tracheotomy? I dread to think.

I suspect that the hospital had to use whatever they had to hand, and assumed that the power of the steroids and anti-histamine would outweigh any allergic reaction from them. In an emergency situation, perhaps I would do the same. But it does go to show that hospitals need to understand the nature of allergy more, and to be able to offer non-allergenic meds to allergy patients. It simply isn’t good enough to give an allergy patient with a life-threatening symptom medication that contains common allergens.

First published in December 2008

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