A rare disorder has made a young gymnast allergic to everything – including her own tears, hair and even exercise.
Natasha Coates has mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), which causes severe allergic-like symptoms to changes in the weather, many foods and everyday products.
These include seizures, throat swelling, difficulty breathing, an inability to feel her limbs and her joints popping out.
When the 22-year-old’s hair grows, her scalp starts to blister and burn, causing her to be in agony. When she cries, the tears cause a red rash down her face, and certain foods can be fine one day, and the next can almost kill her.
Ms Coates experiences multiple reactions a day – typically migraines, itching and swellings – causing her to have used over 250 EpiPens and countless trips to the hospital due to the life-threatening reactions.
Yet she refuses to let her condition from holding her back. Despite being triggered by physical activity, she is an elite gymnast competing in the Disability British Championships and is ranked number one in the UK.
Ms Coates, from Nottingham, said: ‘One day I could eat a cheese sandwich and I will be fine. I could eat the exact thing the next day and it could try and kill me.
‘And the day after I could eat it again and it will be fine. I don’t know what I’m going to react to next.
‘There are so many things I react to; changes in temperature, I react to bath products, beauty products, deodorants, sprays, absolutely everything… different make-ups, just things around the house.
‘I am allergic to everything.’
Life-threatening reaction came on suddenly
Symptoms of the condition only started to develop when she was 18, but it took Ms Coates two years to be diagnosed.
She said: ‘Towards the end of 2012 I started getting allergic reactions to fruit. My lips would blister a little bit and feel a bit itchy. First it was apples, then strawberries and then it was tomatoes.’
She was sent to an allergist and told she had oral allergy syndrome and to carry an EpiPen just in case.
‘But then I was out one day with friends at an event,’ she explained. ‘I hadn’t eaten anything new. I hadn’t drunk anything new and I suddenly felt really unwell.
‘The next thing I know, they are putting an oxygen mask on my face and then I lost consciousness.
‘I was told I’d had a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.’
She was then shocked to find out she had MCAS, which is caused by a genetic mutation that results in an excessive number of mast cells in the body.
Mast cells normally help protect you from disease by releasing substances such as histamine and leukotriene. But with the condition, excess mast cells can build up in your body and these become hyperresponsive and can cause potentially-deadly anaphylaxis.
‘Reactions can vary,’ she said. ‘They can be anything from just feeling under the weather, itchy, very tired or they can be life-threatening like tongue and throat swelling.’