Toddler with mystery illness forced to live on diet of gluten-free fish fingers
Imogen is severely allergic to grass, pollen, animal fur, polyester, plastic, cosmetics, chemicals and sunlight. Almost every food can trigger a life-threatening reaction. The only thing her tiny body can handle is gluten-free fish fingers.
If she comes into contact with anything else, her skin erupts in painful, itchy sores, and she can be violently sick. And it seems the allergy list is ever-growing.
Last year her mum, Kirsty and dad, Mark, from Coventry, gave her tuna, something Imogen had previously been able to eat safely. But the little girl went into anaphylactic shock, her throat swelling up and cutting off her oxygen supply.
"It was a really scary day. I could have lost her," says Kirsty. "Some children can build up tolerance to foods but the more exposure Imogen has, the worse her reactions get.
"I always keep fish fingers in the freezer. She loves fish fingers. Her diet does worry me. I have to give her multi-vitamins and calcium supplements."
As a newborn, Imogen struggled to keep her milk down, and as she got older, doctors realised the extent of her allergies. Kirsty and Mark have spent £5,000 on allergy-free carpets, and their little girl cannot go to nursery. She is expected to be home-schooled when she is older.
If she goes out, she has to be protected from the sun and can only spend a few minutes at a time outdoors.
Kirsty, who works part time and is also mum to Alyssa, four, says: "I would love nothing more than to watch her enjoy food and not be restricted. We don't eat in front of Imogen. It wouldn't be fair because she's too young to understand.
"I have to watch her 24 hours a day. A few months ago, I was out shopping and Imogen was sat in the seat in the trolley. A man playfully touched her cheeks like you would with any little baby.
"She had a rash around her face, she was wheezing and her lips swelled. It was only later I realised the man's hands were covered in paint. He must have been painting his house and the chemicals caused her to have a reaction.
"We went to a soft play centre and had only been there an hour when she started screaming. She was hysterical and I couldn't calm her down. She was covered head to toe in a red rash."
Doctors have been left baffled by Imogen's case, and Kirsty is hoping to train as a dietitian to better understand her daughter's condition. But at the moment she must watch her daughter constantly to make sure she doesn't eat anything that may trigger a reaction:
"She likes playing with her sister and drawing. We just have to be careful she doesn't eat the crayons. Imogen has to experience things so I try to balance everything. I try to give her a bit of normality in her life."
Lindsey McManus, deputy chief executive officer of Allergy UK, said: "True food allergies are rare, affecting up to eight percent of children in the UK.
"Food allergy sufferers can react to even the tiniest amount of the trigger food, making life extremely difficult for parents of highly allergic children.
"The most severe form of food allergy, anaphylaxis, can cause swelling of the lips, tongue or face, shortness of breath, throat constriction, breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness and can be life-threatening."
For more information, visit Allergyuk.org.
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