I had my first allergic reaction when I was 3 years old. The woman who took care of me while my parents were at work gave me eggs, and I broke out in a rash all over my body. Thankfully, the rash went away after about 20 minutes and I was ok. I have never had an allergic reaction to eggs since, and eat them very regularly.

The next allergic reaction I had was when I was about 10 years old and on holiday with my family in Portugal. We stayed in the same area in Vilamoura for years, renting the same villa and dining in the same restaurants. On this occasion, we visited one of our favourite restaurants for dinner but I decided to order something different from the menu. I ordered a pesto pasta, something I had eaten many times before without having any reaction. While waiting for our main course, we were served breadsticks with a tuna dip. I had never tried tuna before this, and remember enjoying my first taste of it. Very shortly after eating the dip, our main courses arrived, and I tucked into the pesto pasta. But after a couple of bites, I noticed a strange reaction in my mouth.

My tongue started to feel tingly, and my throat felt as if it was swelling up. I asked my mom to check the back of my throat, and she immediately started panicking as it was closing in on itself. My breathing started to become restricted, and my mom flagged down a waiter to ask them where the nearest doctor or pharmacy was. There was a pharmacy just a few minutes from the restaurant, so she picked me up and ran there with me in her arms. When when arrived and explained my symptoms, the pharmacist told us we needed an ambulance, and they called one straight away. They told us it would take about 10 or 15 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. While I was waiting, the pharmacist gave me some water to drink and after a few glasses of water, I noticed my mouth started to feel ok again. We decided to cancel the ambulance and stupidly, we didn’t investigate the reaction any further.

While we were certain it was an allergic reaction that I had, we weren’t quite sure what I had reacted to. I had never had tuna before, so that was my first suspicion. But the tingly feeling only began after eating the pesto. I had eaten many types of nuts before, including pine nuts which is usually in pesto, and never reacted to them. But as I said, we never actually investigated this further so the cause of the allergic reaction remained a mystery for quite some time. However, after a few more minor reactions over the years, I came to the conclusion that it was walnuts I was allergic to. For example, I had a brownie containing walnuts while at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London on a school trip in Transition Year. After one bite, my mouth started tingling again so I binned it, drank lots of water, and after a few minutes I felt ok again. I regularly eat peanuts, cashew nuts, pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and have never reacted to any of them. It seemed to be just walnuts.

I had a couple more severe reactions in recent years, including one in a former place of work when a chef decided to add some leftover pesto into the lasagna in the canteen without flagging it – causing my throat to swell, my breathing to become wheezy, my stomach to hurt, and my chest and back to turn bright red and covered in hives. This time, I went straight to a pharmacy and took a strong antihistamine which sorted me out but again, I never fully investigated it. That all changed earlier this year, when at 26 years old I found myself in a hospital in Spain after a serious allergic reaction.

Myself and my family have been holidaying in the beautiful Nerja in Spain for the past eight years. Towards the end of the trip, we decided to try a new Italian restaurant.  The menu was quite limited, and the only dish I really liked the sound of was the pesto. So I asked the waiter whether it had any walnuts in it, and he assured me that it did not. I then ordered it but after a couple of bites, I got that familiar feeling in my mouth and realised it must have contained walnuts. I didn’t make a fuss, I just swapped meals with my brother and drank lots of water. I felt ok afterwards, but decided to go back to the apartment after the meal instead of going out for drink. For some reason, I decided to take two antihistamines instead of one, and a few minutes later while on the phone to my boyfriend, I started having another, much more serious reaction.

The first thing I noticed was that it felt like I had lost all sensation in the bottom half of my face. Then I looked in the mirror and noticed that my chest had gone raw red and was covered in white lumps. My throat was closing in on itself, and my voice sounded really strange when I spoke. Struggling to breathe, I knocked in to my dad’s apartment next door and told him what was going on. Unsure what to do, he called my mom who was nearby having a drink, and she ran back to the apartment. We did some research and found there was a 24 hour medical centre about a 15 minute walk from us, so we headed there. Upon arrival, we discovered it was not actually 24 hours as it was closed.

We called a phone number on the door, and the man said he would get a taxi to us straight away to take us to the hospital. But there was one problem – there is not hospital in Nerja. He told us the closest one was in Malaga, which he said was about a 30 minute drive. The taxi arrived, and we hopped in and went on our way. I was trying my best not to panic, but it was difficult because I was struggling to breath and knew the hospital was quite a bit away. After about 30 minutes, we still didn’t seem to be anywhere near a hospital so I asked the taxi driver how much longer it would take. He said another 25 to 30 minutes.

I kept drinking water and trying to slow down my breathing, but it was a really scary experience being so far away from help in a serious situation like that. When we finally arrived (€120 later), we ran into the reception and explained the symptoms. The receptionist told us that she needed to check that my insurance covered me, and to wait for a few minutes. My breathing was feeling slightly better at this stage, but my voice still sounded strange because of the swelling and blisters in my mouth. When the receptionist came back over, she informed me that I had been taken to a private hospital so my insurance did not cover it. She said the public hospital was another 10 minutes away, but that if I wanted to see a doctor in the private hospital I would have to pay almost a grand.

My mom thought that even though I was starting to feel a bit better, I should go to the public hospital to be safe and figure out what was going on. I was unsure, as I didn’t want to be waiting in the hospital for hours and then taking up the doctors time when I was feeling slightly better and others may have been more in need. In the end, we decided to just head back to Nerja as my symptoms were getting better rather than worse. I drank a lot more water, used my brother’s inhaler and thankfully by the next morning, I was feeling a lot better. But I knew I couldn’t take a risk like that again, and that I finally needed to get to the bottom of my allergic reactions. I organised an allergy test when I came home, and discovered that I am highly allergic to both walnuts and pecan nuts. I was given two epipens and an inhaler, as well as antihistamines to take every day and a nasal spray as it turns out I also have hay fever.

After all these years, it was such a relief to finally find out what I am allergic to, and to have a plan in place if I ever do have a reaction again. Moral of the story? Allergic reactions need to be taken seriously, and it is so important to get properly tested and given the right tools to help you in case of an emergency. If I went to an allergy specialist years ago, when I first had a reaction, it would have saved me spending an hour in a taxi going to a hospital unable to breathe. I now take my Epipens wherever I go and am sure to flag my allergies in every restaurant.

There have still been occasions where the allergens were not correctly marked on the menu, or chefs have added something containing an allergen to a dish at the last minute without flagging it. That is why an app like Trust Dish is such a game-changer and a potential life saver for those suffering from allergies. Having that peace of mind when you go out for a meal, knowing that what you’re eating definitely does not contain any allergens, makes dining out so much more relaxing and stress-free. If restaurants across the world signed up to Trust Dish, it would also take away the worry of eating out while on holidays – particularly if there is a language barrier that means the restaurant staff could confuse your allergen. It is such a simple step to take, but one that could literally save lives.