Most families will have more than one kit available, usually one at home and one at school, and perhaps one more for an additional caregiver if appropriate.
If you or a family member suffers from a severe food allergy, you know how anxiety provoking it can be at mealtime –– at home, but even more so outside the home.
Many parents who have children with food allergies express great concern over what and how their children are eating at school. Parents not only worry that their children will ingest a food accidentally, which might occur at the cafeteria, a classroom party or another school function, but they also fear that the child will not receive the proper evaluation and treatment for severe allergic reactions, should one arise.
Lack of proper identification and treatment of an allergic emergency, called anaphylaxis, can have catastrophic consequences and result in death. Allergic reactions usually happen quickly and can progressively worsen until treatment is administered. In children who may have difficulty verbalizing their symptoms and who are otherwise healthy and resilient, allergic reactions can even be hard to identify and remain silent until they have become severe.
Some parents, particularly those with children who have severe allergies, choose to home school for the very reason that they fear for the health and safety of their child. The majority of us must depend and rely on schools, administrators and teachers to be partners and custodians of safety for our children while they are away from home. The best way, of course, to keep our children safe is to inform our relatives, friends and school personnel of the severe food allergy and to be prepared for an allergic emergency with a care plan.
Once a child is identified as having a significant food allergy in which the food must be avoided, parents are instructed by their doctors on a treatment plan should an allergic emergency arise. This includes identification of what the child has eaten, monitoring of his/her symptoms, administration of appropriate medications and initiating a call to the physician or emergency medical services if necessary. This is called a food allergy emergency or anaphylaxis action plan.
Written instructions, along with an emergency kit containing treatment medications, should be created for the child and retained by parents and schools. (An example of a commonly used written plan may be obtained through the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network at http://www.foodallergy.org/files/FAAP.pdf.) The child is also recommended to have an identification bracelet, tag or note explaining that he or she has severe food allergies.
Medications used for the treatment of an allergic emergency include injectable epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), fast-acting anti-histamines and, if appropriate, bronchodilators such as albuterol, which are medications that help open airways in asthmatics. Other medications may also be used in conjunction with medications listed, such as steroids, but they take effect more slowly. The cornerstone of treatment of anaphylaxis is epinephrine, which reverses the symptoms of anaphylaxis quickly and effectively.
There is often hesitation among parents and the public in using epinephrine, most likely because it involves injection of the medication into a large muscle (not just under the skin, as it acts too slowly). It also has a common side effect of jitteriness and increased heart rate. However, in the case of an allergic emergency, there is no better treatment, and it can save a life. The large majority of cases of death due to anaphylaxis are from either delay in giving epinephrine or from not having epinephrine available at the time of the emergency.
Epinephrine is a prescription medication and must be dispensed by a physician. Proper training on how to use the medication, which comes in a self-injectable ìpenî also known as an auto-injector, is also important. Improper use of the pen has resulted in people injecting their fingers and hands by accident, thus making the one-time use auto-injector unavailable for the intended purpose of curing an allergic emergency.
Medications do expire, with epinephrine prescriptions usually good for about a year. It is, therefore, important to inspect emergency kits regularly. Most families will have more than one kit available, usually one at home and one at school, and perhaps one more for an additional caregiver if appropriate.
-- Be Healthy Springfield (Ill.)