Schools often the site of first-ever food, sting reactions

October 26, 2013 

When it comes to protecting our children, most parents are willing to do almost anything. But do our schools do the same?

We all hope that schools take the necessary precautions to ensure children are safe. That's why Kentucky worked hard to pass a law last year to encourage schools to carry epinephrine auto-injectors on site in case of a severe allergic reaction.

Every year 30,000 emergency room visits occur nationally as a result of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that must be treated with an expeditious administration of epinephrine (adrenaline).

An anaphylactic reaction can occur quickly after exposure to an allergen and has severe, rapid symptoms including swelling, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure and gastrointestinal symptoms. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency.

Reactions are most often caused by foods, including shellfish and peanuts, but can also be caused by latex, medications or insect stings.

In our neighboring state of Tennessee, a third grader was playing outside at recess when he was stung by a wasp. The boy, who had no known allergies, rapidly began experiencing the serious symptoms of anaphylaxis.

Thinking quickly, his nurse administered an epinephrine auto-injector, reducing his symptoms and defusing a potentially life-threatening situation.

Fortunately, Tennessee had implemented a law encouraging schools to carry the medication. But what if they hadn't?

In order to properly protect our children, schools should carry these necessary lifesavers, even if they are only encouraged, rather than required. That's because in many cases a reaction cannot be predicted if allergies are unknown. School-aged children frequently experience their first reaction in the classroom, the lunchroom or at recess.

A 2010 study in Pediatrics looking at data about food-triggered anaphylaxis found that 25 percent of reactions in schools occur among students without a previous food-allergy diagnosis.

In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the prevalence of food allergies and therefore the risk of anaphylaxis.

According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Today, it is estimated that one out of every 13 children has a food allergy.

Many children, like my own, are highly allergic to nuts. Even leftover residue or dust from nuts can cause a dangerous allergic reaction. It is vitally important that school administrators, teachers and nurses have the tools they need and are prepared to take quick action, especially when time is of the essence and allergies are discovered for the first time at school.

While there is definitely room for schools to become more educated on allergies and anaphylaxis, a first step to ensuring the safety of all children, especially those with unknown allergies, is to have life-saving epinephrine auto-injectors on hand.

Tami Pyles of Louisville is a food allergy advocate and mother of two.

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