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I discovered my youngest son Benjamin is allergic to walnut when he was 2 1/2. We were about to go out to a church homegroup lunch, when our boys saw me eating a walnut and demanded some.

I hadn’t given them nuts up to this point as I was worried about them choking. I was ignorant of nut allergy and thought one could only be seriously allergic to peanut. Besides which, at the age of 2 1/2 and 3 1/2, it seemed reasonable not to exclude nuts totally. I cut off a couple of tiny flakes ~ 1/50 of a nut. The eldest said “it’s hard, I don’t like it” and spat out. Meanwhile, and within 1 second Benjamin’s face had turned pillar box red, he vomited the walnut piece out, and started screaming and wouldn’t be comforted. Hives appeared all over, and he started to cough and dribble profusely. My gut feeling was that he must be having some sort of allergic reaction, and I called NHS direct , the helpline here in the UK. Normally one would wait maybe an hour for a call back, but this time I was immediately transferred to a medical person who asked me how far I was from the nearest hospital. As it is nearby she told me to go there right away, and if there was any change in his condition to stop the car and call 999.

Benjamin then went quiet and listless for a while, like a TV in standby mode. After the panic, disorientation and screaming, this seemed like progress at the time, and indeed he had begun to show definite signs of improvement by the time we reached hospital. He was given a large dose of piriton and kept under observation. His blood-oxygen level rapidly recovered and 30 minutes later he seemed back to his usual self. The Dr. wrote out a prescription for an EpiPen and referred us to an allergy specialist before Benjamin was sent home.

A later blood test confirmed the provisional diagnosis of walnut allergy, though all the other tests came back negative. Benjamin now has 2 EpiPens that have to go everywhere with him and must avoid all nuts.

I have since learned:

  1. a reaction of this nature fully justified a 999 call.
  2. the pale and listlessness that followed the initial reaction was caused by a loss of blood pressure – though Benjamin recovered spontaneously on this occasion, things could have taken a turn for the worse.
  3. the hives, redness, and swelling in non vital areas are not a good indicator of the overall seriousness of the situation – the things to watch out for are coughing/breathing problems, swelling that could impact on the airway, and disorientation/listlessness/collapse indicative of blood pressure shock. If either of these occurs, the drill is to use the adrenaline and then dial 999.

Budleigh, Devon, England