Meet the patients: Olivia Harrison
Getting stung by a wasp is a painful experience for anyone, but for Olivia Harrison it could be fatal.
However, thanks to a course of desensitisation treatment at Southampton General Hospital, Olivia hopes to one day be free of her dangerous allergy.
For the past year, the 48-year-old has been travelling from her home in Sopley, near Ringwood, for treatment at Southampton’s Respiratory Centre, where she is regularly injected with tiny amounts of the venom she is allergic to.
To start with, Olivia visited the hospital every week, but after 12 weeks she was able to gradually reduce the number of injections. She is now on to the maintenance part of the treatment, with injections every five weeks. The whole process will take three years, so Olivia still has two more years of regular injections at the clinic.
Due to her rather unusual job, breeding donkeys, Olivia spends a lot of time outside on her own. Not only does this increase her chances of being stung by wasps, it also means if she does have a bad reaction, there is nobody around to get help.
She said: “Some people are born with these allergies, but mine has built up due to the number of times I’ve been stung. In 2002 I was stung nine times when I accidentally disturbed a nest in one of the barns. Although painful, there was no allergic reaction, and when I was stung again within a week there was still no sign of an allergy.
“However, a year later I got a couple more stings from a nest of wasps, and that time I reacted very badly.”
The reaction is known as anaphylaxis, which can result in swelling, a drop in blood pressure and difficulty breathing. In extreme cases it can be fatal.
“The last time I was stung, it was behind my knee,” said Olivia. “My whole leg swelled up – I was lucky it wasn’t on my upper body.”
Olivia was given an epipen to carry with her, which she could use to inject herself with a dose of adrenaline if she was stung again. Then she saw something on a television show about desensitisation and went to see her GP about it and was referred to Southampton General Hospital.
She said: “Claire Duffus and her team are fantastic and I am very grateful to them. I feel lucky to have the chance to do something about my allergy. Some people don’t understand how serious a wasp sting could be, but I have to be very careful when I’m out with the donkeys as I don’t want to get stung again.
First published in Connect issue 23.