Hey everyone, I’m back again with another post about Breakspear Medical Hospital! You can read my previous blog post here to find out about the process of applying to Breakspear and my first day there, which included an initial consultation, numerous tests and far too many needles! I first started going to Breakspear back in January 2016; at the time I couldn’t travel the 3 hour car journey from my home in Staffordshire to the hospital in Hertfordshire then go straight into hospital so we stayed in Hemel Hempstead the night before my first day there (and the night after) … it’s a good job because they wanted me to start treatment with them the very next day!
The treatment I began the day after my initial consultation is called Low Dose Allergy Immunotherapy (LDI). This is a technique where vaccines are used to treat food and chemical/inhalant allergies. The reason I began this treatment immediately is because I had already become intolerant to gluten, grains, dairy, refined sugar and many of the chemical additives, preservatives and colourings found in processed foods. I already lived on a very strict diet consisting of meat, fish, veg, fruit, nuts and seeds meaning no grains (this obviously includes gluten), no dairy, no legumes, no refined sugar, no processed foods and no foods with chemicals, preservatives or additives. I had already developed intolerances to many of the foods I was still eating without even realising! What usually happens once food allergies begin is that as time goes by more and more allergies develop (this was the case for me) until eventually people end up not being able to eat anything because they are allergic to literally EVERYTHING! I actually have a few friends who have reached this point and survive solely on nutrition shakes or cucumber and potatoes. This is the direction I was heading in so Breakspear needed to put a stop to this and halt the progression ASAP!
On arrival for my first day of LDI testing, the day after my initial consultation, we were given a list of over 500 different foods and other common allergens that Breakspear offer vaccines for. The most important foods to begin using this technique with are the ones that you most commonly eat; this is to ensure you don’t develop any new food allergies on top of the ones you already have and to make sure that you can continue to tolerate the foods you still eat. Here is the list of substances you can be vaccinated against…
As well as choosing individual substances to test for and add to your vaccines, you can choose a combination of substances to test for in one go. The mixed vaccine substances give a coverage for combinations of foods but they aren’t as specific as testing each substance individually so this is only appropriate for patients who are less sensitive to these specific substances. Here are the mixed substances you can choose from…
If LDI is a treatment that has been recommended to you by your doctor then during the initial consultation they will have discussed with you which substances they think you should test for but you are also given this list of common foods and chemicals for some guidance. The nurses conducting the testing are extremely knowledgeable, very experienced in this field and also there to help guide you with your choices.
The treatment begins with a fine injection in the arm just under the skin ,containing the first substance you are testing, which in my case was a food. Once this substance has been injected, the body will react to it, producing a bump or wheel around the site of injection. After a few minutes the wheel will either remain active or disappear. After ten minutes if the wheel is still active the nurse will then weaken the concentration of the substance and inject you with the new weaker dose. Ten minutes later the wheel will be evaluated again for it’s reaction and depending on the size of the wheel, the dose of the substance concentration may be lowered again. This process continues until NO REACTION IS PRODUCED – the dosage where no reaction is produced is known as the ‘end point’. You can fit 25 substances in one vaccine so the same process is repeated with each substance you are testing. Once the ‘end point’ has been found for all of the substances you are testing, the pharmacy at Breakspear then put all of the correct concentrations together to build the vaccine. The second step of this technique is the actual treatment – you take the vaccine home with you and take it at least once every day… don’t worry though you don’t have to inject it! You can push the syringe and let the fluid be absorbed underneath your tongue instead. By now you are probably wondering how on earth this is going to help treat allergies and sensitivities?!?!? I will try my utmost best to explain it for you (apologies in advance if I don’t do so well – brain fog has taken over) …
The substances in your vaccines are known as ANTIGENS – a protein, which is usually foreign to the body, that stimulates an immune response, resulting in the production of an antibody. Each day when the patient takes the vaccine the antigen enters the body and it stimulates the production of an ANTIBODY – a protein manufactured by the white blood cells to neutralise antigens. When an ALLERGEN – substances that cause the body to react next enters the body, the body already has antibodies ready to neutralise it so it is already prepared to deal with it before the substance provokes any symptoms/an allergic response. To sum it up, the vaccine contains a tiny amount of certain foods that are enough to stimulate an immune response (antibody production) but not too much to cause the patient to provoke an immune response/allergic reaction. Then once the actual substance whether it’s a food or chemical enters your body, the immune system is already prepared with antibodies to neutralise the food allergens before an allergic reaction/symptoms are produced because taking the vaccines each day maintains the levels of antibodies in the body. How mad is that?!?! I hope it makes sense and you are having a eureka moment like I am!
Now let’s talk costs: a full day of allergy testing is 6 hours and costs £230… it is split into 3 hour blocks… testing from 9-12 pm, lunch from 12-1pm and testing from 1-4pm. Half a day of allergy testing is 3 hours and costs £115 and there is an overrun charge of £60 which applies to up to 60 minutes, after which time a half day charge will be applied. I managed two hours of testing on my first day doing LDI and considering the physical state my body was in, this itself was a HUGE achievement! Those two hours of LDI had ensured that my body had been pushed about a thousand times beyond it’s limits because each time you are injected with a substance, it is provoking an immune response from your body so every ten minutes you are having an allergic reaction, which comes with a hefty load of symptoms and imagine the amount of energy that is demanding from the body every ten minutes! A week later I returned to Breakspear to finish making my first vaccine, which included testing the foods I most commonly eat; this gave me a broad coverage of foods and the best chance of preventing new allergies to the foods I could still eat. As well as creating a vaccine for foods, I also created a second vaccine containing histamine and acyclovir. It was important for me to have a vaccine with histamine in it because my allergic reactions to foods, chemicals etc were so severe that I needed this histamine vaccine to take a few times a day or whenever I needed to help neutralise an allergic reaction. If you are wondering what acyclovir is, it is the anti-viral drug my doctor, Dr Monro prescribed me on the day of my initial consultation to treat chronic active viral infections she suspected I had (you can read more about this in my last blood post here). When I first started going to Breakspear, my body couldn’t tolerate any medication AT ALL – I would have extreme reactions to all medication including nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, hallucinations, dizziness, fainting and black outs – even taking just one paracetamol would black me out for an hour! My body was in far too much of a ‘crisis’ state to tolerate anything entering the body which was a concern for Dr Monro because how was I going to be able to take any medication to help me get better?!?!? The answer to this was LDI! By adding acyclovir to the vaccine which I could take every day for a couple of weeks helping build up my tolerance to it and prepare my body for when when I started taking the actual acyclovir medication. It takes 2-3 weeks for the vaccines to work properly so after two weeks of taking the vaccine containing acyclovir, I started taking the acyclovir medication and I had no reactions to it!!! This method of treating food and chemical allergies was actually working!!! I really could not believe it!
Here is a list of the substances in my first two vaccines…
The technique Low Does Immunotherapy originated in the United States and is used by doctors all over the world but Breakspear is the only place in the UK who offer Low Dose Allergy Immunotherapy, which you can read more about here. This is different to the low dose immunotherapy used in America for treating infections such as Lyme disease, candida etc… it is purely an allergy treatment for food and chemical sensitivities. Here is some extra info for those interested in this method of treatment…
- You can’t take any anti-histamines for 3 days before testing as it may interfere with results and you’re not allowed to take pain killers during testing incase it masks symptoms (this was one of the most difficult parts of LDI for me because I needed opiate pain relief to simply be awake in my own bed let alone out of the house doing something that was physically demanding on the body).
- You can’t eat or drink anything apart from water during testing as it may interfere with results. You can bring your own lunch to eat during the break or you can order food from the kitchen at an additional cost(everything cooked to order and all diets catered for).
- You need to wear sleeveless tops when testing because the injections are on the upper arm.
- There is a ward in the hospital for drips/infusions, a ward for allergy testing and 5 private rooms off the side of the ward, which I was in during LDI because I was far too sick to be on the ward with all the light/noise/movement etc.. most people do the testing on the ward but you may request a room when making the appointment if you feel you need one. This can’t be guaranteed though as the staff decide who gets them based on patients clinical needs.
- The length of time it takes to build a vaccine massively varies between individuals because it depends on how much you react to a substances and therefore how long it takes to test each substance – it can take anything from a few days to a couple of weeks to build a new vaccine.
- The number of days you need to book in for testing will have been recommended to you by your doctor during the initial consultation but if you don’t require all of your booked sessions you can cancel at reception.
- Once you have the vaccines ready to take home with you, they must be kept frozen apart from when you’re defrosting them to use them (obviously duhh).
- You can’t eat or drink for 30 minutes after taking the vaccines so I take them after breakfast but sometimes I take them 2-3 times a day if I feel that I need to and I take the histamine vaccine more frequently than the food vaccine because that is used for all types of allergic reactions.
- The other costs involved in LDI are the actual vaccines which cost £3.95 per substance which works out at £98.75. The actual testing is much more expensive than the vaccines. There is also the price of the needles which you buy per box but i’m not sure of this cost sorry!
- The vaccines last 3- 4 months then they need re-testing.
- and finally if you are scared of needles then this is the treatment that will cure your fear!!!
Dr Monro wanted me to have one last set of tests at Breakspear before I returned home to recover from my first few weeks at the hospital… During my initial consultation with Dr Monro, she identified certain physical signs which indicated I have severe dysautonomia (I spoke about these in my previous blog post, which you can read here). Dysautonomia is an umbrella term used to describes several different medical conditions that cause a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system responsible for the control/regulations of our organs and bodily functions that we don’t consciously direct, such as breathing, the heartbeat and digestive processes. Breakspear is the only place in the whole of Europe who offer tests of the autonomic nervous system, which explains why people come from all over Europe and the world to be patients there! They offer two sets of tests of the autonomic nervous system: the Baseline Autonomic Index test which is basic testing of the autonomic nervous system and the Quantitative Inotropic Fatiguability & Transcutaneous Gas (QIFT) test, which is a more in-depth version of autonomic nervous system testing. During the initial consultation with doctors, if the doctor suspects possible autonomic dysfunction in a patient then they will recommended the baseline autonomic index test and then if the results do show some autonomic dysfunction, the patients will later go on to have the more extensive QIFT test. However, because my doctor found signs of severe autonomic dysfunction during my initial consultation she recommended I go straight in with the QIFT test.
These tests are not conducted in the same area of the building as the main wards and the doctors consultation rooms… they are unfortunately undertaken in the neurosciences department which is down some stairs… uh oh… you can probably sense the dread in my voice upon hearing the word STAIRS. Stairs and people who can’t walk more than 2-3 metres even on flat ground do not mix well… OBVIOUSLY I couldn’t go up and down the stairs (we counted recently & there are 6 stairs) so I was wheeled out of the building, around the back and entered the neurosciences department that way instead. I run into some trouble with the stairs again at a later date so the one thing I wish Breakspear had but doesn’t was a lift!!! The main specialist neurologist, Dr Julu, was working away in Sweden at the time of my appointment (most of the doctors at Breakspear work abroad in other hospitals as well, which you can read more about here) I saw Dr Shah who is a part-time clinical neurophysiologist at Breakspear and runs the test and performs the analysis of the test results before discussing in detail(what actually happened at every heartbeat). He asked me lots of questions about my autonomic symptoms, which would indicate to him what’s going on with my autonomic nervous system and then we moved through into another room where there were lots of machines and wires waiting for me to wired up (its not as scary as it sounds)!
I don’t remember anything that happened whilst I was in that room because I was so sick at the time that I was in a semi-state of consciousness but I’ve spoke to Dr Shah since about my experience with the QIFT for the purpose of this blog post. Before the tests could begin, Dr Shah had to clean areas of the body he wanted to attach electrodes to (he usually uses alcohol to do this but because of my chemical sensitivities I couldn’t tolerate this so he used water instead) then electrodes were attached to 2 areas of my chest, another on my stomach and another over my liver to measure the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels deep in the tissues. A blood pressure reader was attached to my finger, which had to be at the same level as my heart so my arm was put into a long sling to raise my finger as close to my heart as possible (he said he didn’t usually give patients the option of having a long sling but he knew I wouldn’t have the strength to keep my arm up near my heart in a shorter sling). Next he placed a band around my stomach to measure my breathing rate which he kept loose due to the excruciating pain my ribs were in when they weren’t even being touched. The slightest soft touch on my ribs felt as if I was being stabbed! Finally, warming blankets were placed on me because I have bad circulation which can make the readings inaccurate so the warmth helps with circulation. The tests last about an hour and a half in total (I think) although it was all a blur and my memory is poor so I could be totally wrong! Knowing how sick I was, before we began the tests Dr Shah said to me, “Just do what you can and when you need to finish we will but the more you can do the more information we have so the more we can find out what has happened to you. I understand you won’t be able to do some of the tests though and this is okay.” There was no doubt about it that I was going to push to the absolute max to give them as much information as I could! I’d waited almost 10 years for someone to do tests that would actually find out what is wrong with me! I wasn’t going to give up now as I was SO close to the answers I’d been searching for!
The tests began with me lying lying down in a semi-upright position (about a 30 degree angle) for a few minutes (usually patients did this for 15 minutes but my heart couldn’t take more than a couple). He then lay me flat in a supine position which is definitely my favourite way to be! My body is much calmer when lying flat! After a few minutes lying down and recovering from the previous tilted position he lifted me up and I gave it my best attempt to sit up which was more of a slumped over state with him holding me up but back in January 2015 I couldn’t sit up without support at all. I lasted 1 of the 3 minutes expected which was impressive to say the least! I recovered from that before moving onto the next tests which were deep breathing exercises, which I couldn’t do very well because of the excruciating pain it caused me to expand my lungs (I had naturally begun to breathe into my throat instead of my lungs so my upper body didn’t move when I breathed). Next was a carotid massage sinus massage which involved applying pressure to the areas of the neck where arteries are located and then came the toughest part of the tests… usually patients sat on a low stool with no back support for 5 minutes but I couldn’t sit on a low stool so he lifted me from the bed onto a chair and held my back up for a couple of minutes. The next task was to stand up for 5 minutes so he lifted me up, holding my body weight up but I passed out within a few seconds but it was okay because Dr Shah was there to catch me! Dr Shah has recently told me that I passed out a fair few times during the tests and he was aware it was about to happen just by the reading on the screen but typically I don’t remember much! I then had to sit down again and exert pressure onto a squeezy thing (poor description I know I’m sorry my brain is tooooo foggy!), which didn’t go very well due to the muscle wastage in my arms & hands & my lack of strength. The last thing I had to do was blow into a tube for as long and as hard as I could… so it’s safe to say I didn’t manage all of these tests successfully but I tried by best and that is what counts!
This was the most physically demanding tests I have ever done but at the same time they were the most fascinating set of tests I have ever done! Heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen levels, carbon dioxide levels and abnormal brain activity were just a few things being measured and you could see absolutely EVERYTHING that was going wrong in my body on the screen (well I couldn’t but my parents could!). Whilst I had been doing the various tasks the lines and the graphs on the screen were going utterly bananas! Dr Shah nor my parents could believe what they were seeing. FINALLY after all these years I had REAL PHYSICAL PROOF I was sick. YOU COULD SEE ON A SCREEN I WAS ILL. You have no idea how long I had waited for this and what it is like to be sick for 10 FREAKING YEARS and for NO-ONE, NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON be able to find ANYTHING wrong with you on ONE SINGLE TEST!!!! All I wanted to do was cry with happiness but I was too sick for that. My body did’t produce enough energy for me to cry. YEP THAT’S NOT A JOKE. This was most definitely a HALLELUJAHHHH moment and little did we know that this was just the beginning! All I had to do now was return home, recover and recuperate from this crazily intense few weeks at Breakspear and sit tight (well lie down in my case) patiently waiting for all of my results!
*You can read more about the neurosciences department at Breakspear here.
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