- Imogen Elliott is allergic to everything – and doctors have no idea why
By Emma Reynolds
PUBLISHED: 05:58 EST, 7 June 2012 | UPDATED: 06:09 EST, 7 June 2012
This is the one-year-old girl who can only eat fish fingers – because her mystery illness means almost anything else could kill her.
Imogen Elliot, from Coventry, is severely allergic to grass, pollen, animal fur, polyester, plastic, cosmetics, chemicals and even sunlight.
Almost any food can trigger a life-threatening reaction, so the 20-month-old child’s mother Kirsty sustains the sensitive girl on an unchanging diet of gluten-free fish fingers.
Finger food: Imogen Elliott survives on an unchanging diet of gluten-free fish fingers – because she could have a life-threatening reaction, right, if she eats anything else
Highly sensitive: Coming into contact with grass, pollen, sunlight or almost any food can cause her to break out in an itchy, painful rash
Upsetting problem: As a baby, Imogen struggled to keep her milk down and her distraught mother was even accused of making her daughter sick
Doctors believe the problem is down to an underlying condition – but as yet they have no idea what that could be.
Until Imogen’s illness is diagnosed, her mother Kirsty has to be constantly on the alert for a potentially fatal reaction.
If Imogen eats or comes into contact with something she is allergic to, her skin erupts in painful, itchy sores and she is often violently sick.
Last year, the toddler’s family gave her some tuna – which she had always been able to eat before. The youngster immediately went into anaphylactic shock, her throat swelling up and cutting off her oxygen supply.
Her terrified mother rushed her to hospital, where doctors were fortunately able to save her life. Had she got there any later, Imogen might not be alive today.
Mrs Elliott, 30, said: ‘It was a really scary day. I could have lost her.
Protective: Parent Mark and Kirsty and four-year-old sister Alyssa are constantly on the alert in case the toddler goes into anaphylactic shock
Pulling through: It has been a difficult journey for Imogen and mother Kirsty, who works part-time as a carer in between looking after her little girl
‘Some children can build up tolerance to foods but the more exposure Imogen has, the worse her reactions get.
‘I always keep fish fingers in the freezer. She loves fish fingers.
‘Her diet does worry me. I have to give her multi-vitamins and calcium supplements.’
As a baby, Imogen struggled to keep her milk down and her distraught mother was even accused of making her daughter sick.
It was only as she got older that doctors realised the extent of her allergies.
Mrs Elliott and husband Mark, 35, have now spent all their savings on buying an uncontaminated new house and spent three months researching before they bought any furniture.
They have also invested around £5,000 in special allergy-free carpets and even grass.
Unlike other toddlers, Imogen cannot go to nursery, because it would be too dangerous, and she will have to be home-schooled when she is older.
Cared for: The 20-month-old’s family ensure she takes multivitamins and is covered up when she goes out in the sun – which she can only do for a few minutes at a time
If she does go out, she has to be protected from the sun and can only spend a few minutes at a time outdoors.
Imogen’s hyper-sensitivity, although rare, is not completely unheard of. A 19-month-old was recently diagnosed with rare disorder eosinophilic colitis, which meant he could not eat anything but chips.
Douglas Husband’s family found that meat, fruit and any vegetables except potatoes left the toddler writhing in agony because too many white blood cells were being produced in his intestine.
Imogen’s mother, who has set up a support group for parents of children with severe allergies, admits she sometimes finds it difficult to cope.
works part-time as a carer in between caring for Imogen and eldest daughter Alyssa, four,
She said: ‘I would love nothing more than to watch her enjoy food and not be restricted.
Distressing: Imogen’s parents have bought a new house and furnished it with carefully chosen furniture and non-allergic carpet
‘We don’t eat in front of Imogen. It wouldn’t be fair because she’s too young to understand.
‘I have to watch her 24 hours a day.
‘A few months ago, I was out shopping and Imogen was sat in the seat in the trolley. A man playfully touched her cheeks, like you would with any little baby.
‘She had a rash around her face, she was wheezing and her lips swelled.
‘It was only later I realised the man’s hands were covered in paint. He must have been painting his house and the chemicals caused her to have a reaction.
‘We went to a soft play centre and had only been there an hour when she started screaming. She was hysterical and I couldn’t calm her down.
‘She was covered head to toe in a red rash.’
The little girl cannot go to nursery, because it is too dangerous, and will have to be home-schooled later on
Medics have been left baffled by Imogen’s allergies although experts believe she could be suffering from a rare condition.
Kirsty, who wants to train to become a dietician to better understand her daughter’s allergies, is hoping to be a referred to a specialist in London to get a diagnosis.
For now, she must keep her daughter on a restricted diet. Very occasionally, Imogen can eat small amounts of fruit, vegetables and gluten-free cereal bars but her body cannot tolerate these on a regular basis.
Despite her debilitating allergies, Mrs Elliott says Imogen is still a happy little girl.
‘She likes playing with her sister and drawing,’ said her mother. ‘We just have to be careful she doesn’t eat the crayons.
Join the spud club: Douglas Husband, pictured with mother Beverley Ward, is allergic to everything except chips
‘Imogen has to experience things so I try to balance everything. I try to give her a bit of normality in her life.’
Lindsey McManus, deputy chief executive officer of Allergy UK, said: ‘True food allergies are rare, affecting up to eight per cent of children in the UK.
‘Sufferers can react to even the tiniest amount of the trigger food, making life extremely difficult for parents of highly allergic children.
‘The most severe form of food allergy, anaphylaxis, can cause swelling of the lips, tongue or face, shortness of breath, throat constriction, breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness and can be life threatening.’
- For more information, visit www.allergyuk.org