Ella Dixon instinctively knew something was wrong when her toddler daughter reacted badly to something she had eaten.

Within minutes Violet, then just 22 months, had a rash around her mouth and her face began to swell up as she sat in the back of the family car.

Ella, at the time pregnant with her second daughter Everly, says she remembers she had been returning to her home from a Sainsbury shop.

“She got hold of a Nakd health food bar and managed to open it and take the tiniest of nibbles from it.

“I asked her if she had eaten it because something did not look right straight away and then I saw she had a rash around her mouth and I realised that she must be having a reaction as there are nuts in those bars,” she says.

“I rang my mum and she said maybe I was over-reacting but then I could see Violet’s face swelling up and so I quickly got her some antihistamine and then I took her straight to the hospital which luckily was only five minutes down the road.”

Up until that point Ella, 31, had not introduced nuts to Violet and she did not know she had an allergy.

“There was no history of it in either mine or my husband Sam’s family so we did not know she had an allergy.

“But she did have some eczema so the doctors had warned us not to give her any nuts as we now know that allergies can be linked with both that and asthma,” says Ella.

An epi pen, the medicine used to treat anaphalaxis, did not have to be used on Violet but her family now carry them at all times.

“It was just such a horrible experience. She had steroid juice at the hospital to treat her but her skin was blistered and she was in a very bad way.

“I was pregnant with Everly at the time and it was just awful.

“Everly is now five months and we will have to wait and see whether she has an allergy too.

She has cradle cap at the moment and that again could be an indication so I am having to be careful.”

Ella says she realised more education was needed in order for people to understand the severity of allergies for those who have them.

“I think people often get confused between allergies and intolerances and so I wanted to see what was out there and to meet other people going through what I was going through.

“I wanted to share my experience, I wanted to people to realise I wasn’t just being over the top, my daughter nearly died.

“So I wrote a blog about it and the Anaphalaxis Campaign published it and I thought we needed a support group in our area and since I have a background in events organising I decided to try and set something up in our area,” she says.

Earlier this month she launched the first in a series of workshops and support groups which will be held throughout the year.

“If someone eats a cashew nut and then comes to the house and kisses Violet that could set off a reaction, it’s that bad. I am concerned about flying because of being in that confined space and I have also been really worried about children’s parties because you just do not know what is in the food.

“And I know that seems paranoid but other people with children or relatives who have similar allergies will understand so it is important for me to be able to meet others who are going through it too,” she says.

The family are now undergoing tests on both Violet and Everly to discover exactly what they are allergic to.

“We don’t know if Everly has any allergy at all yet, and while we know Violet is allergic to peanuts we do not know about the other types of nut,” adds Ella.

Food allergies are thought to affect around five to eight per cent of children and two to four per cent of adults.

NHS hospitals in England dealt with more than 20,000 admissions for allergies in the 12 months between February 2013 and February 20142 and every year around 20 people will die from anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis Campaign CEO, Lynne Regent says: “It’s brilliant that Ella has decided to run a support group for us in Essex.

“Many people in the general population do not understand just how serious allergy and anaphylaxis can be.

“Our support groups, like the one Ella is running, provide a vital touch point for affected families and individuals and are a really positive way for them to support each other.”

Paediatric consultant Dr Bhupi Sihra, who is also an allergist, leads the Children's Allergy Service at Colchester General Hospital.

It is one of only a handful such dedicated specialist clinics in the country and has around 500 youngsters it currently regularly sees who come from across Essex and even from London.

To make the experience of attending the clinic, which can take hours while a child is tested, a less daunting experience the clinic introduced a passport scheme where they collect stamps as they go from station to station.

Dr Sihra introduced the scheme after meeting its founder The passport is stamped at each stage of their journey, such as when they arrive in the waiting room of the children's outpatient department at Colchester General Hospital, when they have a skin prick test or when their height and weight are measured.

At the end they have earned a certificate to take home.

Dr Sihra said it has proved very effective with children attending the clinic.

“Parents are also more comfortable if we do the taste tests at the clinic too because it is in a controlled environment and if there is a reaction then they feel that it can be dealt with safely.”

He says studies have revealed connections in the rise in allergies to the weaning of children and the age at which certain foods are introduced.

“In third world countries peanuts are used as a weaning food because they are high in protein but they have much less instances of allergies than we do in Europe, “he says.

- For more details, visit anaphylaxis.org.uk/product/supp ort-group-essex/ or email ella.aroundtheworld@yahoo.co.uk You can also follow Anaphylaxis Campaign on Facebook and on Twitter @anaphylaxiscoms for details about support groups.