A mum of two fell into a three day long coma after taking just one sip of Diet Coke.
Elizabeth Perkins, 30, suffers from a severe allergy to artificial sweeteners aspartame and asphetame, which are found in diet soft drinks as well as a number of foods.
The mother, from Swadlincote, Derbyshire, ordered a regular Coca Cola drink at her local pub, but was given a diet version instead.
‘I’d asked for a full fat coke, and stressed that it had to be full fat as usual to the bartender. But once I took my first sip and straight away, I knew it tasted strange, and I could feel the usual sickness start, like I was going to be sick.”
She claims “the room went dark” and she was rushed to hospital, where she fell into a coma for three days.
Perkins, whose two sons both share her allergy, says she has struggled since the sugar tax came into place – which has seen more low-sugar or sugar-free drinks being produced with artificial sweeteners.
She says: “I don’t think people realise what a big difference something like that makes, and since the sugar tax, fewer and fewer places are serving the full fat drinks.
“Some people automatically give you the low-sugar or sugar free versions but for me, that mistake could be fatal.”
Her lunch boxes for son Matthew, six, and Jacob, two, have to be entirely homemade – because “almost everything contains the deadly ingredients”.
She adds: ‘It feels like we’re penalised, for needing the sugared versions of things when really, it’s a necessity – we need it to survive.”
What’s more, her sons have both been in situations where they require medication – but struggle to find a version which isn’t coated with the sweeteners they are allergic to.
“Jacob was diagnosed with a benign tumour and needs medication, and a few months Matthew suffered a water infection,” says Perkins.
“They were prescribed medication but I was shocked – most places don’t supply the sugared versions as it’s no longer cost effective for the manufacturers.
“I had to drive around for hours to get Matthew the medication he needed, whilst he was shaking violently and had a temperature of 41C. It breaks my heart, especially for the boys.”
Allergic-type reaction to aspartame may include “severe edema [swelling] of the lips, tongue, and throat; urticaria; other skin eruptions; extensive itching; the aggravation of respiratory allergies; and even swelling of the salivary glands,” according to a review published in the JAMA Internal Medicine. It is unknown what percentage of people in the UK have this allergy.
Aspartame has been approved as a safe food ingredient for the general public by regulators in the UK, EU and US, according to an NHS report.