She lives with dozens of allergies but she won’t allow it to stop her from living her life.
Shivaika Sewlal (20), who is originally from Durban but now lives in Claremont, Cape Town, is a social-media advocate and influencer whose mission is to raise awareness about the struggles people with eczema and other allergies face daily.
Shivaika, who is a computer science student at UCT, has over 40 allergies, including nuts, wheat, honey, cow’s milk, olives, guavas, most chocolates and sweets and citric acid. She also can’t come into contact with cats, dogs, cockroaches, certain grass and trees, bees, chlorine and dust mites.
Since starting her TikTok account in October last year, Shiv, as she’s known, has more than 264 000 followers and over 15 million views a month.
“It is just so overwhelming and amazing, I’m so grateful for it,” she tells YOU.
Shiv’s parents, Desi and Avinash Sewlal, discovered their daughter had allergies when they started feeding her solids as a baby. She would throw up a lot and develop a rash all over her body.
“I was diagnosed with eczema a few weeks after I was born,” she adds. “Grass and pollen and flowers all affect me. If my windows are open and someone is cutting grass outside, I will immediately have a flare-up on my face just from the smell.”
Shiv has to be careful about what she eats, which products she uses and the environment she’s in.
“Nuts are often in shampoos and lotions and many things people don’t realise – like facial scrubs.
“Now I have a range of pure shampoo and pure soaps which have no chemicals or fragrances. As far as food goes, I’ve found pasta made from beetroot, lasagna sheets made from rice and chocolate biscuits that have no eggs, no wheat, nothing – they’re made from rice and tapioca flour and that’s about it.”
Going to a restaurant is also challenging and she often packs her own food when going out with her friends.
“I feel most comfortable with that because I don’t know which oil the restaurant uses and it can cause flare-ups.”
When she has flare ups her face swells, she struggles to breathe and she develops weeping eczema which results in pus-filled blisters.
“I can also have an anaphylactic reaction, which is life-threatening and I keep an EpiPen injection with me at all times,” she says, adding she uses a preventative antihistamine daily and topical steroids.
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Shiv, who has two sisters, Ashraya (24) and Jeevana (14), says her family has always been loving and supportive but she was often bullied in school.
“Throughout my life, I’ve been in bandages because of my eczema. Kids at school would call me contagious and run away from me.
“My condition really affected my childhood. There were many times I had to be rushed home or to hospital. I was always sick and missing school. Once a parent of one of my friends told me, ‘Oh, you’re being such a drama queen’,” Shiv recalls.
Which is why Shiv decided to share her experiences online.
“I wanted to appeal to people with allergies and people without allergies so everyone can relate and understand,” she says.
Shiv hopes her story encourages people to embrace their condition and live life to the fullest.
“It’s all about your mindset and being positive about your life. Although you are living a limited life, you can still lead a happy and healthy life.”