Dangerous mouthful: Push for more resources to manage allergies

Neelima Choahan

17/08/2018 2:23:12 PM

Australia may have come a long way in managing allergies, but National Allergy Strategy co-Chair Richard Loh says more needs to be done.

Barry Hickey said his wife Ruth had battled allergies all her life.
Barry Hickey said his wife Ruth had battled allergies all her life.

It was the start of spring and Ruth Hickey was meeting friends for brunch.
The 64-year-old was allergic to dairy, but the upmarket restaurant in Melbourne had always been a ‘safe’ option.
Until that day in September. 
Ruth’s husband of 43 years, Barry, told newsGP what happened.
‘She spoke to the staff and alerted them to her allergens and the consequences if she was in contact with them,’ Mr Hickey said.
‘Unfortunately, the kitchen and wait staff had a communication glitch … the chef said to the lass taking the meal, “The meal without the dairy is on the right”. She thought his right, [but] he was referring to her right.
‘So she took the meal with the dairy to Ruth, she had one mouthful and went into anaphylactic shock.’
Despite an EpiPen being administered, the grandmother-of-five died before she could get to the hospital. 
‘That’s the tragedy of allergy,’ Mr Hickey said. ‘Something as simple as that can cause somebody to die and it is so easy to fix.’
About 4.5 million Australians Australians are affected by hay fever and allergic rhinitis while one in 20 Australian children and one in 50 adults has a food allergy.
The Federal Government yesterday pledged about half a million dollars for a host of allergy-related programs, including development of standardised food allergy content to be included in all accredited food hygiene courses. Another project will determine how to improve access to care for people with allergic conditions, particularly those in rural and remote areas.
The projects were identified as part of the National Allergy Strategy, which was launched two years ago by the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia.
National Allergy Strategy co-Chair Associate Professor Richard Loh told newsGP one in five Australians has one or more allergic diseases.
‘The statistics regarding allergies in Australia are concerning and require serious attention. One in 10 infants now have a food allergy and food allergy-induced anaphylaxis has doubled in the last 10 years,’ Associate Professor Loh said.
‘Sadly, there have been many near misses and preventable deaths related to food and drug allergy. We need to learn from these tragic events and implement processes to prevent them from occurring again.’

Richard_loh_Article.jpgAssociate Professor Richard Loh says the statistics regarding allergies in Australia are concerning and require serious attention.
Associated Professor Loh, who is a paediatric clinical immunology and allergy specialist, said much more needs to be done, especially in rural and remote areas.
Dr Joanne Simpson, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Allergy network, said GPs are at the frontline of managing allergies.
‘Allergies are really common presentation in general practice and a lot of GPs are dealing with it every day,’ she told newsGP.
‘We would like to see the development of referral pathways in all parts of Australia. It just gives GPs guidelines when to send [patients] on to specialists.’
Dr Simpson said there is also a need for improved training and mentoring for practitioners.
‘All doctors don’t get a lot of allergy training in their current undergraduate training,’ she said.
‘Also better training for GPs at a secondary-care level so there are GPs who actually have a quite a lot of experience in allergy and are actually dealing with the majority of allergy in certain areas. We’d like to see better training and upskilling for them as well.’
Dr Simpson said she would also like to see more collaboration between GPs in the National Allergy Strategy.
Next month will mark four years since Mr Hickey lost his wife and best friend.
Mr Hickey, who was at his wife’s side as she died, said he never expected Ruth’s allergy could prove fatal.
‘It had happened so often and we were able to get her to hospital,’ he said.
‘The treatment would bring her around and so you become complacent. I never thought for a moment, even when I took the call to say she had gone into anaphylactic shock … [I thought] it was just a matter of getting her to a hospital and we would go back to our normal lives.’

anaphylaxis Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy National Allergy Strategy

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