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GPs go forth

I think I'm allergic to allergies

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‘I had diarrhoea and vomiting last week, I know it’s a food allergy and I want a blood test.’

After I had manually reduced my TM joints (my jaw had gaped like a yawning hippo in utter disbelief) I set about the monumentally difficult task of re-educating this patient.

It was difficult to know where to begin. Judging by her astonishing ignorance, at about the age of 12, presumably her teachers had given up.

No, that is harsh, but food allergies are like pairs of denim jeans, in that they always seem to be in fashion and everybody wants one.

The language people use when talking about allergies has also changed. Note she didn’t ‘think’ she had an allergy, nor had she come for me to confirm the diagnosis. She had already decided what was wrong with her, and my role was reduced to being the provider of the blood test forms to find what she was allergic to.

I’m not sure when poor old viruses went out of fashion, but nobody wants a common old stomach bug anymore. It has to be something more exotic and only an allergy will fit the bill. Using the trouser analogy, viruses are the bright orange flares of the illness world.

I think in our largely secular society, ‘belief’ in an allergy, for some people, has replaced the faith in the existence of a superior being that many people held in less enlightened times.

It’s also easy to see the appeal of some alternative practitioner sitting you down in their joss stick-fragranced therapy room and spending an hour telling you how they can ‘cure’ your ‘allergy’ with some herbal tablets they just happen to have in stock, to the accompaniment of whale music.

For those without any scientific education, you can see why this is more palatable than a rushed five minutes with a harassed GP telling you your illness is due to a tiny thing called a virus and that there is no treatment for it.

There is one allergy that would bring a smile to my face though - a mass intolerance to blue rosettes and public school educated millionaires in about four years.

Dr David Turner is a GP in west London 

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Readers' comments (14)

  • I think there is a more interesting cultural point here.

    All cultures throughout history seem to develop dietary rules, often with religious connotations.

    Could it be that humans have a psychological need to follow rules around choice of food?; and that our culture's "5 a day" type dietary rules are too vague and permissive to meet that need?

    Perhaps "food allergies" are 21st century Westerners' way of meeting such a need.

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  • How dare you say that belief in a superior being was in "less enlightened times"...
    An ignorant lack of respect for any religious people in the world

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  • I agree - I feel you ought to retract the comment about less enlightened times . As a practising Christian I of course could feel it is you who need to be enlightened , but this is hardly the place to demonstrate your intolerance . Please edit and show respect .

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  • This comment has been removed by the moderator.

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  • @7:09, @9:09 I thought it was perfectly possible to read the phrase "less enlightened times" as ironic.

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  • Well done Dr T.We should be shouting it form the roof tops;ditto re "allergy to wifi" "bubbly character ruined by chronic Lyme disease".
    Not sure where the blue rosette analogy came in. I have worn one every five years for the last twenty, with no ill effects.

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  • In a free society (which we apparently still are) everybody is free to believe or not believe in whatever they wish.
    Scientific facts though are based on objective,quantifiable, reproducible data.
    Belief in any superior being is based on faith not science and most alternative treatments are also based on faith and are not underpinned with robust scientific data.
    This was all that I was saying.
    This article was not about religion but food allergies.

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  • Me too. I have had serious food allergies since my early teens & the biggest problem has always been not the allergy but persuading ill-informed people that mine is not a fad and I cannot eat "just a little" because it's Christmas!

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  • Great article.

    When I was an FY1 a parent told me her child was allergic to oxygen. I feel your pain.

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  • I am allergic to religious nuts

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