Matter of life and death for May startup

Matter of life and death for May startup

Irish company is on a mission to grow awareness of anaphylaxis and allergies while providing training for non-medical personnel to administer life-saving medication.

Allergy Lifestyle, which sells a wide range of products for those with anaphylaxis and allergies to manage their condition, took second place in the final pitch competition of Google’s Adopt a Startup this summer.

The company was set up by Anne Walsh in 2013 following her daughter, Aisling’s, diagnosis with anaphylaxis due to a peanut allergy. Ms Walsh says the idea for the business arose when she had difficulty finding all the products she needed to manage Aisling’s condition in one place.

She describes the “very scary” experience when Aisling was semi-conscious upon arrival at the hospital less than 15 minutes after eating the peanuts. She says they were fortunate to live close to the hospital where Aisling was given emergency adrenaline.

She explains that anaphylaxis causes the blood pressure to drop and airways to close so it can become fatal very quickly.

So, if you’re diagnosed you have to carry adrenaline auto-injectors with you 24/7

Allergy Lifestyle wanted to provide a one-stop-shop for all of the products needed for someone diagnosed with anaphylaxis. The company provides information on anaphylaxis and allergies which Ms Walsh says is crucial as about 25% of people who experience anaphylactic shock won’t have had a previous allergic reaction.

While Aisling had eczema as a baby, Ms Walsh, who worked as a biomedical scientist in hospital laboratories, wasn’t aware of anaphylaxis at the time of her diagnosis 13 years ago. Although awareness has improved since then, parents with young children can feel isolated. “We’ve been through the experience with Aisling growing up, and it is quite a lonely place.”

“It’s a leap of faith to put your two- or three-year-old in somebody else’s care when you know if they take a bite of the wrong thing they could end up in the hospital. You’re depending on someone who’s not medically trained to recognise the signs and give the adrenaline on time.” She says that children with food allergies can be excluded from birthday parties which can be hurtful for a child.

Following the roll-out of legislation in Ireland in 2016 which allowed for the training of non-medical personnel to administer emergency medications, Allergy Lifestyle became a certified provider for Cardiac First Response, epinephrine for anaphylaxis, salbutamol for asthma and glucagon for diabetes.

Training is available for schools, crèches, sports clubs, other organisations and parents. Attendees learn how to recognise the signs of anaphylaxis and administer an adrenaline shot and other emergency medication. Upon completion of the course, attendees feel reassured that they can manage kids with allergies. “Administering the pen is quite simple. It’s just getting over the fear of it.”

Allergy Lifestyle sells a range of products, including insulated cases for adrenaline pens and inhalers, and allergy wristbands, medical jewellery, cookbooks, and storybooks.

Its own-brand product is an anaphylaxis kit which comprises an insulated EpiPen bag with illustrated guides showing symptoms of allergy and anaphylaxis, instructions on how to use an epinephrine auto-injector, as well as emergency contact details and photo ID.

The product is proving popular with parents and schools, and the company is currently developing a second branded product with the ultimate goal of replacing many of its items with branded Allergy Lifestyle products.

Ms Walsh says Allergy Lifestyle’s mission is to improve awareness about allergies and anaphylaxis. The prevalence of allergies – with up to 8% of children affected - means that every school has children with allergies, so it’s essential teachers and other staff know how to deal with an emergency situation.

Most people have heard of allergies to peanuts and shellfish, but some people mistakenly think that other allergies are not very serious, she says.

It could be bananas, dairy or shellfish; it is possible to be allergic to anything. It’s whether or not you have anaphylaxis

Allergy Lifestyle has availed of a variety of supports with initial funding from its Local Enterprise Office and Southwest Mayo Development. Ms Walsh participated in Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme, which included office space at innovation hubs, at GMIT [Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology] Mayo in Castlebar, where the company is based.

Ms Walsh made an appearance on television show Dragons’ Den in 2016, and businessman Barry O’Sullivan invested €70,000 in the company. Ms Walsh put in €30,000 of her own money, and Enterprise Ireland put in €100,000 in match funding under its High Potential Start-Up scheme.

With online sales in 45 countries, about 70% of Allergy Lifestyle’s customers are from outside Ireland. She adds that Google's programme has helped the company to develop its online offering. She says “that’s the best thing about online because you wouldn’t be able to survive on the shop front in Castlebar.”

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