Legislation to Provide Allergy Medication in Schools is Crucial to Save Lives

December 16, 2013

An act recently signed by President Obama will make it easier to provide epinephrine to children with severe food allergies in schools, even without a prescription. Physicians at Nationwide Children’s Hospital hope the act will encourage the remaining 20 states to pass legislation, incentivizing and, in some cases, requiring that schools to have this medication available for all students since up to 6 percent of children in the United States are now diagnosed with a food allergy.

Allergic reactions to food and other potential life threatening allergic reactions can be fatal unless epinephrine is injected into the child immediately. Sarah Denny, MD, a pediatrician in the Emergency Department at Nationwide Children’s, knows how crucial it is to have an epinephrine auto injector close by if your child has a severe allergy. The number of children treated for anaphylactic shock at Nationwide Children’s Emergency Department has been on the rise, but the issue is also personal for Dr. Denny.

Dr. Denny’s son, Liam, just 18-months-old at the time, had an anaphylactic reaction to soy milk in 2008. Previous testing confirmed he was allergic to dairy, egg, peanuts and tree nuts, but Liam drank soy milk for months before his anaphylactic reaction. After drinking a cup of soy milk as he had done regularly for months, Liam immediately started coughing, vomiting, developed hives all over his body and slipped into unconsciousness after a few minutes. Dr. Denny’s husband, also a physician, administered Liam’s epinephrine auto injector then immediately called 911. Much to the Denny’s relief, medics arrived quickly.

“Thankfully, in the 10-minute ride in the ambulance to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the epinephrine started to work and by the time we got to the Emergency Department he was sitting up on my lap, waving to the nurses,” recalled Dr. Denny, also a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “Had we not had an epinephrine auto injector at home, I don’t know that we would have been so lucky.”

The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, signed by the President last month, provides states federal grants if schools maintain a supply of epinephrine, and trains school employees to administer the drug in an emergency. Additionally, the bill provides civil-liability protection for those who administer epinephrine in an emergency.

David Stukus, MD, an allergist at Nationwide Children’s said, “This issue has to be addressed where kids are most vulnerable to an attack. Approximately 90 percent of all schools have one or more students with a food allergy, and about 25 percent of life-threatening food allergy reactions reported at schools occurred in children with no prior history of food allergies.”

“Epinephrine in schools should not replace your family’s own individualized allergy treatment plan that you make with your allergist and school,” said Dr. Stukus, also a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “This act is most critical for students who may not yet have been diagnosed, or for those with known food allergies who, for whatever reason, do not have self-injectable epinephrine immediately available. When a child has a severe allergic reaction, seconds are crucial because timely administration of epinephrine is the single most important way to save lives, and this act will help schools do just that.”

Watch a video about how having an epinephrine auto-injector close by saved Dr. Denny's son.

Liam holds epinephrine auto-injectors, the medication that saved his life when he was just 18 months old.

About Nationwide Children's Hospital

Named to the Top 10 Honor Roll on U.S. News & World Report’s 2019-20 list of “Best Children’s Hospitals,” Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of America’s largest not-for-profit freestanding pediatric health care systems providing wellness, preventive, diagnostic, treatment and rehabilitative care for infants, children and adolescents, as well as adult patients with congenital disease. Nationwide Children’s has a staff of more than 13,000 providing state-of-the-art pediatric care during more than 1.5 million patient visits annually. As home to the Department of Pediatrics of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Nationwide Children’s physicians train the next generation of pediatricians and pediatric specialists. The Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of the Top 10 National Institutes of Health-funded freestanding pediatric research facilities. More information is available at NationwideChildrens.org.