By Josh Saunders
A trainee paramedic is battling ‘traumatic’ mystery reactions that leave her struggling for breath, her lips doubling in size and a full body rash.
Lydia O’Connor, 23, from Chelmsford, Essex, can suffer the potentially fatal symptoms at any moment without any cause, due to idiopathic urticaria.
She was previously believed to have a nut allergy, after suffering a similar reaction for six days at the age of 16, while living in Cork, Ireland.
But after being hospitalised in intensive care for four days after her initial reaction last year, tests revealed the true cause was urticaria.
She would go onto suffer head to toe hives for six months, that ranged from the size of a pin-prick to covering her entire stomach, and at her worst forcing her to go to hospital every week.
Her symptoms mysteriously disappeared in August, leaving Lydia in relief but also fearing, the knowledge that it could come back at any point.
She said: “I came out in a rash from head to toe, it happened in an evening almost straight away.
“My lips definitely doubled in size, it was terrifying because I didn’t know what was happening.
“When I was admitted to the ICU, I thought I was having a severe allergic reaction like anaphylaxis, because I was struggling to breathe, and my tongue and lips were so swollen.
“Medication took down the swelling but the next day it all came back while I was in intensive care, then it continued to repeat over and over again.
“After five days in hospital and tests, the allergen markers in my blood weren’t raised, which indicated that it wasn’t an allergic reaction.
“I was told I have idiopathic urticaria, meaning it can start without a cause.
“The daily rashes affected my whole body, I would wake up with them every day, they were really itchy and large.
“They even covered the palms of my hands and soles of my feet, it made me feel unwell, as I was so exhausted from being unable to sleep due to being so itchy.
“I couldn’t see any identifiable causes – I changed my bedsheets, my diet, changed my body wash, shampoo, make-up and everything.
“It had started to subside coming into August 17th, it was only on my arms and legs when suddenly it stopped.
“I remember thinking that it couldn’t have stopped completely and that it must just be for the better day, but I’ve been clear ever since.
“I’m worried it will come back next year as it started during the cold spell in the UK, so I do wonder if it’s related to snow and cold weather.
“I’m delighted that I don’t have to deal with it any more, training to be a paramedic is full on and when you’re with the public people comment on the rash.”
During Lydia’s battle with the urticaria-based rashes, strangers treated her differently.
She said: “You could see people looking at my rash hoping they didn’t catch it.
“No one said anything until when I was on ambulance placement, where you wear short sleeves, so could see my arms and chest.
“When I went to take someone’s blood pressure, she told me, ‘Don’t touch me I don’t want to catch it.’”
Lydia believes her first reaction at 16-years-old was misdiagnosed as a nut allergy.
While at a sleepover after a school disco, she noticed a rash had spread across her body and alerted her friend and their family.
Lydia said: “I panicked and tried to dab water on it to stop it from itching, I was so worried that my dad came to collect me and took me to an out of hours doctor.
“I was in hospital for a couple of days, they thought it was glandular fever, but it wasn’t and it just stopped all of a sudden.
“From 16-years-old until now I thought I had a nut allergy and that’s what I was told had caused the rash.”
Recognising the same symptoms from her initial reaction seven years ago, now leaves Lydia deeply concerned that it will return in the future.
Due to her urticaria being idiopathic, there is no known cause for her symptoms meaning that despite changing her lifestyle drastically she doesn’t know when it could return.
Lydia said: “Talking to friends they don’t understand it, believing there must be a cause but I have tried and changed everything, but nothing worked.
“Online there is a police officer and another lady from the ambulance service in London who have it too, it makes you realise how many people are dealing with this.”
Lydia believes others suffering with urticaria are only like to discover they have urticaria after blood tests following what appears to be an allergic reaction.
The symptoms can be so severe that it can lead to anaphylactic shock.
Lydia said: “It was embarrassing too, especially when having really bad reactions because my lips were really swollen.
“My lips have swollen-up a couple of times and some of the hives were the size of pin pricks, other times they were like a five-pence.
“During the worst times it would be one big welt that covered my entire stomach like one big red blob.
“There’s not a lot you can do until they run tests, you will think it’s an allergic reaction.”