The heartbreaking reality of the 'modern epidemic' of food allergies

There is nothing more shocking than meeting a young woman, who was an outgoing, career driven, fun television producer, who now is constrained in a wheel chair, brain damaged and unable to speak.

Amy May Shead is that woman and a serious food allergy sealed her fate.

Amy was on holiday in Budapest with her friends in 2014. They all went to a restaurant and Amy showed the waiter her allergy card. It warned of her severe allergies in Hungarian and the waiter assured her the food she had ordered didn't have any nuts in it. Only it did.

After one bite Amy's throat started feeling strange. She administered an EpiPen, but she continued to feel breathless. She injected another one but still it had no effect.

Both her friends and the restaurant called an ambulance but by the time they arrived Amy went into anaphylaxis and shortly after had a cardiac arrest. Her brain was starved of oxygen for six minutes and despite being revived she was already seriously ill and put into a coma in hospital.

Roger Shead with his daughter Amy May Shead. Credit: ITV News

Her father Roger Shead says: "Amy was such a vivacious outgoing person and I think it has taken us a step back and we're now looking at out future in a different light to what we could have done".

Amy May Shead was an ITV producer before the tragic incident. Credit: Amy May Trust

Roger also says that Amy did everything she could to protect herself. She asked the waiter three times and even got him to speak to the chef. He insists more needs to be done to get people to take food allergies more seriously.

ITV News has uncovered figures that reveal a dramatic increase in the number of hospital admissions because of a serious allergic reaction.

In 2014, 4,312 people went to hospital with allergic complaints. By 2017 that figure had risen to 5,921 and 1,855 of those cases resulted in anaphylactic shock, a near fatal condition.

But why are more and more people developing food allergies?

In 2014, 4,312 people went to hospital with allergic complaints - by 2017 that figure had risen to 5,921. Credit: ITV News

I met some scientists at an allergy lab in the Royal Brompton hospital in London who told me more people are developing allergies because we're living more hygienic lives, leaving us less exposed to allergens.

They also say inaccurate food labeling is having a major impact.

Professor Stephen Durham, head of the allergy service there, says: "I think food allergies are an extremely urgent problem almost one could regard it as the modern epidemic".

He says recommendations in the 1990s for children to avoid peanuts has also had an effect. Advice now is that at risk babies should be exposed to peanuts in the first few months of their lives.

Amy with Brian May and friend Lindsey Bowers Credit: Amy May Shead
Amy May Shead receiving physiotherapy. Credit: ITV News

Food labeling has been a hot topic recently and the government have promised to look into tightening the law around it.

The families of those who have suffered at the hands of food outlets who don't print ingredients or who have inaccurate labeling want that change as a matter of urgency.

Evidence suggests allergies are getting more prevalent and the law needs to keep up with changing medical needs.

If anyone is proof something needs to change, it's Amy, who lives with the brutal consequences of a serious allergic reaction everyday.