Why comparing murder with anaphylaxis is pointless

Dr Robert Boyle can be heard talking about how you are more likely to be murdered than die from anaphylaxis on Inside Health which features adrenaline auto-injectors and their suitability for general use. Skip to minute 18:30 to listen to the interview. I have written about this before a while ago when Dr Boyle published his research in 2013 comparing allergy death to murder.

Read ‘Delighted to hear that food allergy death is less likely than murder’, here.

He has already faced my wrath, but he is still spouting this nonsense.

You can read Dr Boyle’s research here in Dying from a food allergy is less likely than murder on the Imperial College website.

Allergy death less likely than murder

Allergy death less likely than murder

Quite frankly comparing the whole population with the likelihood of being murdered in the first place is pretty pointless. We don’t go around worrying about being murdered, unless let’s say, we live in the Bronx, we are drug dealers, being stalked or have previous been attacked and threatened with murder. In these circumstances, yes someone might fear murder but the vast majority of the human race does not live in fear of murder. I don’t give murder a moment’s thought from one year to the next.

But if you look at anaphylactic attacks as an ‘attack’ on your life you can compare it with murder. Someone who has had an attack on their life would live in fear.

I live in fear of my particular assassins on a daily basis when I leave my house. Their names are nut, dairy and soya – these boys put me in A&E fighting for my life. They attack about every 1-2 years with a few minor attacks in between which I get away with less scathed because my allergy is dose related so if it’s only a tiny bit I might be lucky enough to get away with just a body full of hives and a slap in the wrist from my specialist.

The other allergies just leave me cut and bruised. Celery, wheat and tomato just beat me up every now and then and leave me in pain with the damaged skin to show for it.

So if you look at the number of deaths from anaphylaxis divided by the number of people with anaphylaxis who carry adrenaline you get to a true figure and it’s much higher than your risk of being murdered.

If you don’t have allergies and are not at risk of anaphylaxis you are very unlikely to have an anaphylactic attack – I would say you’re never going to have one but as they say, never say never. So we should discount all those people who do not live with the fear of anaphylaxis from our calculations.

Just as you would discount most of the population of living with fear of murder because we don’t fear this. It’s just very unlikely to happen to us. It is known. (Had to get a Game of Thrones reference in there somewhere… not sure why…)

Every exposure to an allergen which causes an allergic reaction is an ‘attack’ on the body. It certainly feels like one! And some say every exposure leads to a more serious attack. Our attacker gets better at hurting us. It wants to kill us.

So, to get a percentage for the likelihood of dying from anaphylaxis we would divide the number of deaths from anaphylaxis in the UK per year which is 20 by the number of people who have been diagnosed with a life threatening allergy, which is 200,000.

This gives us…0.01% of people who have life threatening allergies in the UK who will die from anaphylaxis. A very small percentage. So when we see this our fear is slightly less.

If you then compare that to the likelihood of being murdered and you base this on the fact that only 11 people out of 1 million are murdered in the UK every year you can see already that it’s a tiny percentage compared to the allergic community who may have a fatal allergic reaction.

i.e. 11 in 1 000 000 = (11/1000 000)x100% = 0.0011%.

So basically you are 100 times more likely to die from anaphylaxis than you are to be murdered. I’m not writing this to make your more scared I’m writing it to dispel this ridiculous comparison with being murdered.

And looking at it like this I have no idea how Dr Robert Boyle actually justified his statistics.

If hospitals admissions for anaphylaxis were an attack

So, simply put, 0.01% of people with anaphylaxis die each year. It’s not much, but more importantly it’s actually far higher than the number of people who get murdered.

Your adrenaline, (I carry an Emerade) can therefore be seen as your “stab proof vest” and hopefully… it helps.

Last year there were 10 murders per 1,000,000 of the general population, or 2 in 200,000. That’s 10 times less than the death rate for anaphylaxis amongst the 200,000 at risk.

There were 20,000 allergy admissions of which 12,000 were emergencies. So 6% are “attacked” each year of which 0.01% died. And its growing…

So we have just proved that to compare murder with anaphylaxis is nonsense.

Especially since the allergic community are one of the most well educated and dedicated group of people at avoiding their potential allergen or murderer.

Just come for a night out with me to see the lengths I sometimes go to in order to ensure my safety.

Go out for day with an allergy mum taking care of an allergic toddler and fear sky rockets because kids pick things up, put them in their mouths and can’t always tell you how they’re feeling if they have accidentally ingested an allergen.

The number of potential ‘attacks’ the allergic person avoids in one day can be huge and it’s endless. It’s happening all the time. Like a friend with a latex allergy at a party recently arriving only to find balloons everywhere. Lots of little assassins bobbing about in the air.

Imagine if we all went about eating what we wanted and not avoiding our allergens – the death rate would be significantly higher I think.

And if, as Dr Robert Boyle suggests, the likelihood of dying from anaphylaxis is so slim then why do we bother to take so much care? Why even carry adrenaline? Why check that it’s in date? Why learn how to use it? Why bother checking what you’re eating.

This is not what I believe at all, and it’s not for a minute what he’s implying but it’s how I feel when I hear his statement used. I think the reason we are so safe from anaphylaxis is because we carry adrenaline, because we check ever piece of food we eat and live our lives like James Bond, fighting off the baddies at every turn.

So you should be worried if you have anaphylaxis and you should always carry your pen and educate those close to you. Never stop being vigilant. Stay safe and avoid your allergen and you’ll be fine. Easier said than done I know!

In conclusion, a completely pointless comparison

What Dr Robert Boyle was trying to do was to allay some of our natural fears so that we didn’t go around in perpetual terror of coming into contact with our allergen or our child’s allergen.

But we’re not stupid Dr Boyle. Just give us the stats because murder is not relevant. Only 1% of the adult population have life threatening allergies and a mere tiny 0.01% of those will die from anaphylaxis. It’s very rare.

We do get that.

But when you’ve felt your throat tightening or watched your baby go limp after eating something it doesn’t feel like a pointless worry. It feels very, very real. And the feelings you have when you’re having anaphylaxis are exactly that you are going to die. I’ve experienced this myself and been in a complete panic and behaving irrationally because the fight or flight mechanism kicks in. You need to fight this hard and boy does your body fight it. I can sleep for hours and hours after an anaphylactic attack and it takes me days to recover fully.

When someone gets stabbed or attacked doctors are very good at patching them up. But faced with serious anaphylaxis we have only one solution apart from antihistamines as a first line of defense and that’s adrenaline. Doctors don’t fully understand why the body reacts like it does and why some people have a more severe reaction than others. They don’t know why some die.

But they do know exactly why someone dies from a stab wound. And they know what caused it. A knife.
We’re dealing with the unknown here and allergens hidden in places you least expect them.
It’s completely pointless to try to get us to see that we should not live with fear because we might be more likely to be murdered.

I have seen the paramedics face when they see mine with full blown anaphylaxis. I can see the fear in their eyes too. I have heard them on the phone talking to the hospital. They are scared. They are panicking too. We are all scared.

It is not stupid to be scared. It is not foolish to be scared. Your body is scared. I know if I just smell peanuts my body tells me. I don’t have anaphylaxis just from the smell but I can detect them from quite a distance. I’m on alert. My body is trying to keep me safe.

To compare this fear with the fear or being murdered is utter nonsense.

What do you think?
Does Dr Boyle make your blood boil? (do you see what I did there?)

The number of children with allergies is far higher and growing faster than the number of adults so would the likelihood of death be even higher for kids at risk of anaphylaxis? Hopefully not as statistics do show that those in early teens and adulthood do seem to have far more life threatening anaphylactic attacks causing death than children. Doctors don’t know why, or what changes but it seems to be a fact.

Dear Dr Robert Boyle – One day we will meet and I won’t be Mrs Angry Crazy Allergy Woman because I’m really not like that and I will have calmed down by then, but just a word of advice. Stop comparing anaphylaxis to murder. First of all, it’s not helpful and second of all, you can prove anything if you manipulate statistics. Just as I have proved that there is absolutely no point in comparing murder to death from anaphylaxis.

If you want to allay our fears just try to understand us and don’t insult our intelligence. You’ll need to find some other way to help us to live with the fear because murder as a comparison is really not helping. Our potential murderer is still out there and he’s never going to get put away for what he did.

He’ll get away with it yet again and live to attack more and more allergics out there.

There. I said it. Rant over.

I would love to hear from Dr Robert Boyle. Perhaps we could come up with a better ‘allergy analogy’.
I love that saying, been trying to get that into a blog for months, since I made it up.

One that empowers, not frustrates and incenses us.
One that unites us, not alienates us.
One that really does help us feel less fear because this scary stuff.

See: https://www.allergyuk.org/allergy-statistics/allergy-statistics for some allergy statistics.

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About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. http://www.whatallergy.com was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She also won the Foods You Can People's choice Best FreeFrom blogger award 2014.


  1. Perhaps he should define murder. Into his equation, he should add the SLOW death of the chemically sensitive. Figure in the doctors..ahem..legal drug pushers, that launch attack after attack on the body whilst making profit from the drug manufacturer. And perhaps he would like to define life itself. Is half living or being on your ass for days after an onslaught of chemical warfare (legal, of course) to be considered ‘life’. But mostly, I think he needs to understand that just because murder is an immediate and debiliiting allergies are slow; death is death. Chances are the murdered might have had a full life until the death. I, for one, suffer from asthma/allergies/chemical sensitivities and have since birth. I do not feel I have lived a full life. And lastly, I don’t appreciate yet another coat thinking they’re qualified to make such a statement.

    • Hi Heath. I hadn’t even thought to include quality of life in this. Just today a doctor described eczema as a life sentence. That is what allergies, asthma and eczema feels like sometimes. Today I’ve had a pretty good day but on the bad days it’s so hard to stay positive. Thanks for your comment. I’m trying to get a response from Dr Boyle himself. So far not been able to contact him.

  2. The difference is anaphylactic death is preventable and murder largely isn’t.

    • If anaphylactic death was preventable no one would die from anaphylaxis but unfortunately we know that some do. Adrenaline can save lives but doctors don’t understand why some people still die from anaphylaxis, despite having adrenaline.

    • Well, let’s just level the field again. Much of murder is preventable. Don’t deal with drug dealers..don’t wind up dead. Don’t deal with loan sharks..don’t wind up dead. Rap star gang members murdered all the time because that’s how they choose to live.

      • I agree Heath, we behave sensibly without even thinking about it. We lead sensible lives, keep sensible company, don’t carry guns (in England anyway) and make safe choices when travelling. It’s not so easy planning to stay safe with allergies. It involves seriously modifying your life to stay safe.

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