A woman is so allergic to the smell of Christmas almost died after a festive trip to a garden centre sparked an asthma attack.
Anne Murray, who lives near Lanark, Scotland, has been allergic to traditional Yuletide spices like citrus and cinnamon – and has had to avoid mince pies which contain orange peel.
Even the briefest exposure to them could spark her asthma – a condition which claimed the life of her mum, Mary, as well as her childhood best friend.
This time of year can be particularly dangerous for Anne, 58, – one of the few people who welcomes the tier three restrictions her area is living under.
Engineer Anne, who lives alone, says that the measures not only lower the risk of her exposure to Covid-19, but also to the festive fragrances which could kill her.
She explained: ‘I’ve hardly left my home since the national lockdown was first announced earlier this year, so it has been easier to avoid triggers.
‘I’ve always been allergic to citrus, so whether it is just that, or the combination of the citrus with Christmas spices like cinnamon and cloves triggering my asthma, I don’t know – but I don’t take the risk.
‘I do my Christmas shopping online and all my family and friends understand that if I get even a whiff of something that could trigger an attack, I’m out of the door.
‘I tell everyone, “If I can smell it, I need to get away from it”.’
Shortly after she was born, Anne was diagnosed with severe asthma, which is caused by inflammation of the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs and can lead to breathing difficulties.
In addition, she also has several allergies, any of which could trigger an attack.
As a youngster, Anne had between 50 and 60 different allergy tests in a bid to determine exactly what triggered her asthma.
As Anne, a former Scottish diving champion, got older, it became clear that her asthma was going to force her to make adaptations.
When travelling abroad, she had to call the airline in advance and request that the cabin crew ensure passengers did not peel or eat oranges until they had disembarked from the plane.
It also made socialising difficult, and nights out became an ordeal as the organiser would often book a table at a restaurant – only for Anne to realise that she could not eat anything on the menu.
She said: ‘I’ve come close to dying following a severe asthma attack a couple of times already. I’ve had such bad attacks I’ve been on the edge of death and sometimes I wonder how it is I’m still alive.’
Just before Christmas 2016, Anne suffered one of her most terrifying episodes to date.
She had enjoyed lunch with a pal when she decided to pop into a garden centre but within minutes she became wheezy and headed home..
Anne thought she had managed to avoid a full-blown asthma attack by using her inhaler and taking steroids to keep her airways open.
But by the next morning, she was gasping for air and rushed to see her GP.
She said: ‘It felt like someone had put a binding around my chest and had continued to tighten it. It was exhausting and the pain down my back felt like I had been hit by a truck.
‘Christmas can be a nightmare for me.
‘I have to stay away from mince pies and cakes, and if I even inhale orange zest I struggle to breathe.
‘But I’ve learned to manage myself and the threat of an attack over the years.
‘I can tell when I’m starting to struggle because I become very weak and it becomes harder to breathe. For the people who just have to watch it, I know it can be really scary because there’s nothing they can do.’
As well as Christmas spices, which can be found in mulled wine, mince pies, puddings and even on some decorations, Anne must also avoid room diffusers and certain hand sanitisers.
‘It can be hard to work out what’s in them, so I have sourced my own which are citrus-free,’ she said.
And although this time of year can be tricky, Anne is still looking forward to spending Christmas with her sister Jean, 53, who is in her support bubble.
‘Despite my allergies and asthma, I do still enjoy Christmas,’ she said. ‘I just have to do things a little differently.’
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