In an effort to protect millions of school children from allergic reactions caused by food allergies, President Obama today signed the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. Epinephrine is a life-saving medicine that can reverse the effects of a severe allergic reaction to food & other allergens. It is critical that the signs of a reaction be recognized early, and treatment with epinephrine be given immediately. This new measure offers incentives to schools in states with existing laws, permitting them to keep epinephrine on hand and train their staffs how to use the injectors.
I am encouraged by the passage of this legislation and hope that the states without legislation continue to introduce and pass legislation to make epinephrine auto injectors available at schools for all children. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have epinephrine auto injectors available in our schools that could save a child’s life. As a physician in the emergency department at Nationwide Children’s Hospital I have treated many children for serious food allergies, some that knew they were allergic to a food, but many who had no known food allergies.
Five years ago, my son Liam had an anaphylactic reaction to soy milk. We had known that he was allergic to dairy, egg and nuts, but we had been giving him soy milk daily for 6 months when, he had his reaction. Liam was sitting in his highchair when we gave him a glass of soy milk – he immediately started coughing and vomiting. By the time we got his clothes off and saw the hives all over his body, he was unconscious. My husband grabbed the auto injector and administered it to Liam and then immediately called 911. Thankfully we could hear the sirens leaving the firehouse by the time he hung up the phone. I rushed outside with Liam in my arms to meet the ambulance.
I stood on the curb looking down at my 18 month old in my arms, pale, lifeless and unconscious. I ran back inside and told my husband that I was going to start chest compressions. At that moment, the ambulance pulled up and I raced back to the street and jumped in, not even letting the medics get out of the squad. Thankfully, in the 10 minute ride to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the epinephrine started to work and by the time we got to the Emergency Room he was sitting up on my lap, waving to the nurses. Had we not had an auto injector at home, I don’t know that we would have been so lucky.
According to the CDC since 1997, the rate of food allergies in children has doubled and one in four children experience their first allergic reaction to food while at school.
Why keep self-injectable epinephrine in the schools?
Approximately 90% of all schools have one or more students with a food allergy
Studies show that 16-18% of children with food allergies have had reactions while at school due to accidental ingestion
Approximately 25% of life threatening food allergy reactions reported at schools occurred in children with no prior history of food allergies
Food allergy is just one cause of potential life threatening allergic reactions, insect stings can also cause anaphylaxis
These statistics show not only how critical it is to provide this life-saving medication in schools, but it also raises general awareness among teachers, parents and students about the seriousness of food allergies, an issue that is very important to so many families like my own.
Sarah Denny, MD, FAAP, works as an attending physician in the Section of Emergency Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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