Now that a new school year is underway, there is a lesson no teacher or school official can afford to fail: improperly responding to a student’s severe allergic reaction to food can be dangerous and, in extreme cases, even deadly. As an emergency medicine physician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, I want to encourage people to learn more about recognizing and responding to allergic reactions.
Epinephrine injectors (syringes filled with the drug epinephrine) can help during an allergic reaction; in fact they can be crucial. Using Epinephrine can improve symptoms for about 20 minutes. This is enough time to call 911 and get emergency help.
Nationally, the number of children with food allergies is increasing. We’re not really sure why that’s happening, but we want more people to be prepared to act if those children ever find themselves dealing with a severe allergic reaction.
All children and adults with a potentially severe food allergy that places them at risk for anaphylaxis should have 2 epinephrine auto-injectors quickly available to them at all times. School nurses and parents of children with severe allergies should be comfortable enough to know not only how, but also when to use it. But are the other staff? What about babysitters, aunts, uncles or other people who might be left in charge of children? Each year as many as 150 people actually die from food allergies and thousands more experience severe reactions. Some of these people actually had epinephrine in the vicinity — it was available, it just wasn’t used or it wasn’t used in time.
The prospect of injecting someone with epinephrine can be intimidating, particularly when you have to act on behalf of a child or someone else who can’t self-administer. We have found that a little bit of hands-on training and discussion goes a long way in terms of preparing for this possibility.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital has developed a method to assess how familiar people are with epinephrine injectors, and a way to teach them how and when to use them. We also have a video that shows you how to use an EpiPen; to see it, visit NationwideChildrens.org/EpiPen. I hope you will consider learning more about epinephrine and food allergies.
Daniel J. Scherzer, MD, is an attending physician in the Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University (OSU) College of Medicine. He is the Medical Director of the newly instituted Patient Safety and Simulation Center and a member of the Pediatric Analgesia and Sedation Service.