Life-Threatening Allergies

Jaya is reading a book in her bed.

Most people can enjoy the simple pleasures of eating a peanut butter sandwich or scrambled eggs. But for patients like Jaya from Hamilton, these foods can be deadly.

Jaya experienced her first anaphylactic reaction at the age of nine months, when she touched eggs at a restaurant.

“Jaya wiped her face after touching the eggs and broke out into hives,” says Jaya’s mother, Sukhi. “We rushed her to McMaster Children’s Hospital, but her symptoms improved by the time we arrived.”

Coincidentally, Jaya’s father Rana works as a nurse at the Hospital. At the suggestion of Rana’s colleagues, Jaya underwent testing by her family doctor which confirmed an allergy to all nuts and eggs.

“It was hard to hear that diagnosis,” says Sukhi. “At the time, there weren’t a lot of nut-free and egg-free products. We had to make all of our food from scratch and take our own food wherever we went.”

Fast Facts about Allergies

  • Common food allergens include: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, sesame, fish, shellfish and wheat
  • Common environmental allergens include: pollen (tree, grass or ragweed), pets, house dust mites, and mould
  • The Respirology and Allergy Service at McMaster Children’s Hospital saw more than 3,100 patient visits between April 2018 and March 2019
  • At McMaster Children’s Hospital, patients with allergies may receive: expert consultation, allergy skin testing, blood work, and asthma testing

    Allergic reactions affect different areas of the body. Signs include:

For food allergies:

  •      Skin: hives, swelling (face, lips, tongue), itching, warmth, redness
  •      Respiratory: breathing difficulties, coughing, shortness of breath, runny nose, watery eyes, trouble swallowing
  •      Gastrointestinal: nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea
  •      Cardiac: pale skin, light headedness, sense of doom, personality changes,  “zoning out”

For environmental allergies: nasal congestion, frequent sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, mouth breathing, snoring

  • According to Nurse Practitioner Alvin Gutierrez, “Never hesitate to give your child an EpiPen if you think they’re experiencing an allergic reaction. After administering the EpiPen, call 9-1-1 or visit the nearest emergency department immediately.”

Dangerous reactions

Jaya eventually outgrew her egg allergy, but her extreme sensitivity to nuts poses an ongoing danger to her life.

“When Jaya was seven, she ate homemade food at a wedding and broke out into a rash and hives,” says Sukhi. “We administered an EpiPen and immediately drove to McMaster Children’s Hospital.”

“The team at McMaster Children’s Hospital saved Jaya’s life.”

Rana stayed overnight with Jaya at the Hospital while they monitored her for eight hours. The family returned to McMaster Children’s Hospital two years later when Jaya had a second anaphylactic reaction at another wedding.

“It’s heart wrenching to watch Jaya have an allergic reaction because she is crying and terrified about dying,” says Sukhi. “Since Rana is a pediatric nurse, he knows how to keep Jaya calm and make sure she is breathing.”

Sikhs for kids

Today, Jaya is more independent and she inspects all food labels for any traces of nuts. Grateful for the care that Jaya has received, the family gives back monthly and raises funds through MacKids Walk & Wheel as part of team “SIKHS FOR KIDS.”

“The team at McMaster Children’s Hospital saved Jaya’s life,” says Sukhi. “We use the services across the Hospital and it’s important to donate so the teams can have the most up-to-date equipment to care for children.”