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How Multiple Allergies can Devastate our Lives or Make Them Healthier - Emma's Story

by Maxima Skelton(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 191 - February 2012

Emma was a restless and overactive baby from the day she was born. Often screaming, unable to sleep and in discomfort from severe digestive problems, we tried everything to get her some help. With medical staff apparently stumped, when Emma was 16 months old it was suggested that she should be admitted to hospital. The doctor in charge thought he had a diagnosis: that Emma's poor health was a response to having a 'personality clash' with her mother! This came as not only a shock to me, having cared very carefully for both our children, but I also felt incensed that he should even consider it. It was at this point that we rather lost confidence in the specialist but, because we were very concerned about Emma, we agreed for her to be admitted to the children's hospital.

Maxima-and Emma-young
Maxima and Emma - young

The decision was not one we took lightly, but we were desperate for some answers since Emma had had problems since birth. Our son Alexander, who was two years older, also suffered from what were eventually found to be food allergies. Changes in diet, however, did not transform Emma into the happy, contented child that Alexander became - instead, she continued to be uncomfortable and hyperactive.

We were not allowed to stay with her in the hospital and she was isolated in a room on her own. Those days were very hard, leaving Emma in hospital clutching the hand of a nurse. One evening I was so tired and distressed that I got lost going home and couldn't remember where I was going!

The specialist assumed that Emma would scream all night but in fact, much to everyone's surprise, she slept well in her hospital room and when we visited her in the morning she was again fast asleep - unheard of in her routine at home. It was when she woke up that we spent a very happy time playing together - she sitting on the floor instead of racing around as she normally did. This was the first time I could remember her playing contentedly. It was like seeing a different child.

After a few days in hospital they diagnosed Emma with multiple airborne allergies and said she would not be able to return home until we had had a central air purifier installed on the furnace. This machine would clean all the air going through the house of airborne particles such as dust mite allergen, pet hairs and general dust and mould spores. Fortunately Emma's grandparents made this possible for which we were very grateful, and she returned home. They also recommended that Emma's room be stripped bare - she was left with a futon on the floor and no toys - and the room had to be damp dusted daily to reduce dust mite exposure.

A,E and Larry outside
Emma, Larry and Alexander

Interestingly we could tell from the behaviour of both the children when the filters needed to be cleaned on the air purifier. Things would deteriorate as the filters got dirty and the air coming out was less cleaned. At that time we had a lovely dog Larry - part collie and part hound - whose hair would get trapped in the air cleaner. We eventually made the decision to find Larry a new home, and then we started to see some improvements.

Unfortunately, my own health had also begun to suffer - with chronic fatigue, depression and muscle weakness that left me exhausted. One day when I painted the downstairs loo with gloss paint I felt virtually suicidal. At first I put it down to the way things were - two small children with various health problems, running our own business, and a lack of regular sleep. But I seemed to get worse and worse, and it was getting harder to manage everything else, feeling the way I did.

As the problems mounted, with no answers, we started to examine our lifestyle, diets and environmental issues, including seeing a doctor who specialized in ecological medicine. It was then that both Emma and I were diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivities - having severe adverse reactions to synthetic materials and chemicals, with those reactions triggered even with low level exposure.

We then set about making changes to our home in an attempt to improve our health. My husband Don went through the house and removed the foam rubber underlay from beneath the carpets; all bedding and clothing were replaced with cotton or wool. We also installed a shower at the workshop where Don made pine furniture, so he could wash away all traces of pine dust and chemicals.

When the children were 6 and 8, we sold the pine furniture business and decided to move from Canada back to the UK where the warmer winters meant they could spend longer periods outside and away from potential triggers. After a few years of realizing that suitable bedding and products for people with allergies were hard to come by we set up The Healthy House, a family business aimed at providing support and natural products for people who suffer from allergies, intolerances and sensitivities. At the time we were pioneers in the field.

The idea of The Healthy House was also fuelled by my interest in interior design and using natural products. Even products such as commonly used commercial paints can have a terrible effect on people who are sensitive, so we sourced a range of that are organic and toxin free. As we looked into the subject more, we realized that there was a role to play - and at the time, we were the only company doing what we did.

Since setting up The Healthy House in 1990 we have helped around 50,000 people through our advice line, mailings, e-mail and mail order service. We provide a range of innovative products to improve the health of your environment, to combat allergies, eczema, asthma, SAD and chemical sensitivity, and to protect against the effects of electrostress caused by modern gadgetry such as WiFi and phone technology.


Emma and Maxima

Today things are far better understood - but modern life also brings many challenges. We hear from so many people who are unwell, either with specific allergies or unexplained pains or mood swings, all kinds of symptoms that they simply can't explain or get any help with. The lack of understanding, and the stigma attached to it, can make things very difficult for people who suffer. There is an underlying misconception that some of these things are all in the mind, or that people are over-reacting, whereas in reality it is a serious issue - at worst, allergies can kill, and they can also have an extremely detrimental effect on people's lives. We know, having suffered first hand, exactly how hard it can be to deal with, and how desperate you can feel.

It is estimated that around 30% of the population will suffer from an allergy, with around half being children. And the UK now has the highest rates of asthma in the developed world. Hospital admissions for allergy related illnesses increased by 32% in the 10 years between 1998 and 2008. Allergies and sensitivities can be brought about in response to a variety of things, such as dust mites, mould, synthetic materials such as foam rubber and gas-emitting products, chemicals and chemical treatments, foodstuffs and pollen. As well as more commonly known complaints such as eczema, asthma and hay fever, they can cause a vast range of symptoms - depression, fatigue, insomnia, pain, rashes and digestive issues.

Many people feel helpless, but at The Healthy House we stress that there are solutions to many of the problems and ways to manage the others. It's important for people to realize that there is support, and that there is now a vast range of products that can help. We don't sell miracles - but we can make a big difference. And we're always happy to speak with people and offer our advice.

One of our guiding principles has always been to only offer products that are effective, and at the same time are safe and do not introduce other problems. It is amazing how many times the alleged remedies or solutions to problems like these are actually full of chemicals that are harmful in themselves.

The Healthy House, based in the Cotswolds, was renovated on the same principles - an old stone building that we gutted and refitted with natural, organic materials and shielded electrical wiring. Both our children are now grown up and living 'normal', healthy lives. For twenty years now, The Healthy House has been providing other families with support, products and information, helping them to cope with their allergies and conditions.

Our early struggles gave us a true insight into how allergies and sensitivities can affect quality of life - and how a determined and educated response can not only help to restore good health and balance but can result in living in a much healthier environment.

Further Information
For more information please contact The Healthy House on Tel: 01453 752216; Fax: 01453 753533;  


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About Maxima Skelton

Maxima Skelton set up The Healthy House with her husband Don as a family business to help others with allergies and chemical sensitivities. The Healthy House provides products for asthma. eczema, hay fever, chemical sensitivity, dust mite, pet and mould allergies, electrical sensitivity and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Products to combat electrostress and to relieve some of the symptoms of electrosensitivity are a growing part of the business. She may be contacted on Tel: 01453 752216;

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