A British mom of two is sharing her ordeal after spending three days in a coma, allegedly caused by consuming a diet soda by accident. The mom suffered a severe allergic reaction to aspartame, an artificial sweetener commonly found in diet soft drinks.
Elizabeth Perkins, from Swadlincote in Derbyshire, England, told Caters News that she ordered a regular soda at her local pub in October 2019. She received a diet soda by mistake and started drinking the beverage but claimed she knew something was wrong from the very first sip.
“I’d asked for a full-fat coke, and stressed that it had to be full-fat as usual to the bartender,” Perkins, who already knew she was allergic to aspartame, explained. “But once I took my first sip, straight away I knew it tasted strange.”
“I could feel the usual sickness start, like I was going to be sick,” she said. Perkins, then 30, lost consciousness and woke up in hospital three days later.
“Some people automatically give you the low-sugar or sugar-free versions, but for me, that mistake could be fatal,” Perkins later told Caters. The mother’s two young sons, Matthew and Jacob, share her allergy to artificial sweeteners.
An allergic reaction to aspartame may induce swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat, skin lesions, excessive itching, trouble breathing, and even swelling of the salivary glands, according to a 1996 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
After waking from her three-day coma, Perkins recovered in the hospital before returning home to her sons. She decided to share her story as a warning to others to remain aware of the severity of this particular allergy.
The mom of two is also looking out for her children’s health. Since discovering that many processed and pre-prepared foods contain artificial sweeteners, Perkins has been making her sons’ school packed lunches from scratch to avoid risking their health, according to Metro.
Perkins also lamented the effect of her family’s shared allergy upon their social lives. Her sons, she said, often miss out on sharing birthday cakes with their friends because store-bought icing contains artificial sweeteners.
“It feels like we’re penalized for needing the sugared versions of things when really, it’s a necessity,” she said. “[W]e need it to survive.”
“I don’t think people realize what a big difference something like that makes,” Perkins continued, “and since the sugar tax, fewer and fewer places are serving the full-fat drinks.”
The United Kingdom’s soft drinks’ industry levy, commonly referred to as the sugar tax, was first announced in March 2016. The tax requires UK manufacturers to pay added taxes on high-sugar beverages; many cafés, pubs, and eateries have responded by cutting full-fat soft drinks from their menus in order to limit their overheads.
Additionally, the HM Treasury reports, the tax has prompted over 50 percent of UK manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of their drinks overall, equivalent to 99.2 million pounds of sugar every single year.
Aspartame is one of the most popular artificial sweeteners in food production. The sweetener comprises aspartic acid and phenylalanine, two naturally occurring amino acids, and is FDA-approved for safe human consumption in moderation, according to Healthline.
However, for consumers with a known allergy wishing to avoid processed sugar, or for anyone wishing to explore more natural alternatives to sugar and sweeteners entirely, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, fruit juice, blackstrap molasses, and stevia leaves are several possible healthier alternatives.