A woman has described her severe food allergies as “almost a silent disability”, but she “refuses to live in a bubble”.
Hannah Sherrard, 24, from London, had her first “full blown anaphylactic shock” at just 10 months old.
The University of Birmingham graduate is allergic to “literally all nuts”, as well as dairy, soya, chickpeas, lentils and spices, to name just a few foods that are off limits.
Sherrard almost died aged 11 after eating a fish cake rolled in peanuts, thinking the crust was breadcrumbs.
Five years later, she was rushed to hospital from summer camp when she kissed a boy who had eaten a cake containing nuts.
Sherrard is speaking out to raise awareness of the seriousness of food allergies, which affect around 2 million people in the UK alone.
The press officer stressed, however, she is “not made of glass” and has “a full life ahead of her”.
Sherrard has been hospitalised “many times” with her allergies, starting as a baby.
“From the minute I was born, I’d react to everything,” she told Yahoo UK.
“If my mum ate something and breastfed me, I’d react.”
One of three children, Sherrard is the only member of her family to be “as unfortunate as she is”, with no one entirely sure why her allergies are so severe.
“My dad just has an allergy to peas and has asthma,” she said.
‘Felt really funky’ after kiss
Sherrard’s most serious reaction occurred when she was 11 and family friends brought shop-bought fish cakes around for dinner.
“I had a couple of bites and immediately got this horrific taste in my mouth,” she said.
“I can’t really describe it – a bit metallic, a bit sour, a bit spicy.
“I told my mum, ‘I think the fish is off’.
“A couple of minutes later I threw up and collapsed on the floor.”
Sherrard was rushed to hospital, where she stayed for several days.
“Because I’ve got asthma, when my throat swells up it’s always more serious,” she said.
At one point doctors thought they would have to carry out a tracheotomy – when an opening is created at the front of the neck, allowing a tube to be inserted into the windpipe that aids breathing.
“Eventually they got me onto the right path [without the procedure],” said Sherrard.
Having survived the ordeal, a romantic encounter landed Sherrard back in hospital when she was 16.
“I was at summer camp,” she said. “Someone had eaten a cake or something and I kissed him.
“It was a delayed reaction; an hour later I was in the shower and felt really funky.
“I got out the shower, and my lips and mouth were swollen. I had to be rushed to hospital.”
Sherrard has been in a relationship with her brother’s friend since the start of the UK’s first lockdown, when the pair connected over FaceTime.
“Dating I have to lay out my allergies very early on,” she said.
“My boyfriend thinks in a way that what I’m allergic to, he is also allergic to.”
Sherrard is “very in control of her allergies”, but despite her best intentions, accidents do occasionally occur.
Less than a week ago, the press officer endured a minor allergic reaction after eating a Middle Eastern takeaway.
“I always tell them I’m allergic to hummus, but I guess there was some cross reaction,” she said.
“The corner of my lip swelled up. It went down with antihistamines.”
Sherrard has to be “very selective” when eating out and has even been refused service as a result of her allergies.
“I went for dinner last year on my birthday to a pasta restaurant,” she said.
“I said ‘I’m allergic to nuts’ and they said ‘we have a policy that we don’t need to serve anyone with allergies so please leave’.”
The keen traveller has also accepted there are some parts of the world she will unlikely ever see.
“Thailand is just not safe because of the peanuts everywhere, but there’s still hundreds of places I can visit,” she said.
“I don’t feel like I’m being held back from something.”
Despite her optimism, flying itself has proven to be a risk.
“I had a reaction on a flight two years ago; someone had been eating peanuts in the vicinity,” said Sherrard.
“It set off panic more than anything else.
“I was on a flight to New York and you think ‘where will you [emergency] land?’.”
Due to Sherrard not ingesting the nuts, the reaction was minor and could be controlled with antihistamines. She maintains, however, not enough is done to protect those with nut allergies on flights.
“They banned smoking on planes because it was harmful, but it’s the same principle,” said Sherrard.
“Allergies are almost a silent disability; just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t affect your day to day life.”
Sherrard therefore carries two adrenaline autoinjector devices – like an EpiPen – with her at all times, which help to stop a serious allergic reaction becoming life-threatening.
Despite the risk she lives with every day, Sherrard is determined not to let her allergies hold her back.
“I’m not going to live my life in a bubble,” she said.
“I’m not made of glass. I have a full life ahead of me.”
Sherrard even fulfilled a lifelong dream of skydiving in mid-2019, raising £5,000 ($6,674) for the charity Anaphylaxis Campaign.
When asked about her message to people with allergies, Sherrard said: “Everyone needs to be transparent about them; there’s no point being ashamed.
“There’s such a stigma about not affecting someone else with what you’ve got and being a burden.
“It’s taken me a long time to realise my allergies are not a burden.”
Sherrard is also behind people teaching their friends and loved ones how to administer an auto-injector device.
“Nine times of 10 people want to help,” she said.
Watch: Study gives hope to people with multiple food allergies