My Story

My Random Allergy - Poppy Seeds and Exercise Induced Anaphylaxis

I've had hayfever since the age of 7 and at the age of around 23, I suddenly developed an allergy to horses. They are standard and very common as far as allergies go, and both are pretty easy to deal with.

If I can't avoid freshly cut grass or being around horses (surprisingly difficult as my sister has a horse, that I would often look after whilst she went on holiday), I am able to medicate myself with antihistamines and I can limit the severity of my symptoms by using eye drops, wearing sun glasses and not rubbing my eyes.

So far, so humdrum. The same can't be said for the rather odd allergy I was diagnosed with a few years ago at the age of 34. Being a bit of a gym bunny as well as a snowboarder, I was visiting the gym several times a week and was generally fit, active and well.

One evening back at home however, I noticed that my face looked swollen and I was alarmed to find an angry looking rash covering most of my face. I felt ok, so figured it must have been some kind of contact dermatitis. I looked through my cupboards to see if i'd recently changed washing powder or face cream (I hadn't) and the following day the rash was still there, but it had started to fade and a couple of days later it was completely gone, so I thought nothing more of it.

A week later it happened again. Within hours of coming out of the gym my face was swollen and this time the rash was much worse, I also felt tired, dizzy and generally unwell. I wracked my brains trying to figure out what i'd used on my skin, eaten or come into contact with and drew a blank. The rash was so bad however, that I made an appointment to see my Doctor the very next day.

I arrived at the Doctors surgery with a red, bumpy swollen face and explained my symptoms to him.

“Have you been eating anything new recently?” asked my Doctor. I was immediately reminded of the delicious new bread I was buying every couple of weeks, a brown multi seed crusty loaf, and i'd often have a couple of slices before heading out to the gym.

He asked me “Does it contain Poppy seeds?” to which I replied that it did indeed contain quite a lot of poppy seeds. My Doctor had a light bulb moment and confidently informed me that I had something called “Exercise Induced Anaplylaxis” and that it was being triggered as a direct result of me eating poppy seeds. He told me that I should not go to the gym or indeed do anything vigorous, within 24 hours of eating poppy seeds.

The condition seemed so random that for a split second I thought he must be joking. Upon leaving the surgery I did what anyone would do, and jumped straight onto Google to find out more. Sure enough, the condition i'd just been diagnosed with was indeed real and it was not un-common for the reaction to be triggered by eating a certain kind of food. This meant that a combination of the food trigger followed by vigorous exercise would together cause Anaphylaxis.

Luckily, chronic hives and a swollen face are fairly mild symptoms and I didn't show any of the more serious symptoms associated with Anaphylaxis such as difficulty breathing, nausea, low blood pressure etc.  but that doesn't mean I won't react that way in future.

To deal with this, I made the decision to avoid Poppy seeds all together and took them completely out of my diet. Luckily, this has proved pretty easy to do. I eat very little processed food so it's really just bread and crackers I need to be careful with and scour the ingredients lists for.

During my research into allergies i've found that allergic reactions to things we have previously tolerated well can be quite difficult to identify and accept. If we've never had a problem with that food or stimulus before, how can we suddenly become allergic to it? It seems strange that one day you will tolerate something then the next your body throws a hissy fit but if you can take anything away from my experience, know that allergies can pop up at any time and they can be pretty random and obscure too! So, If you think you are having an allergic reaction to something, get yourself tested or speak to your Doctor.

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Last revised: 12 November 2013