A child with a food allergy can have an attack severe enough to be a matter
of life and death. That's why it's so important for parents to
know how to respond quickly in case of an allergy-induced emergency.
"An allergy attack can quickly bring on anaphylaxis, in which a child
can experience nausea, trouble breathing, hives or swelling in the mouth
and throat. If it's not treated immediately, these symptoms can become
Maureen Villasenor, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. "However, a recent study found that less than 70 percent of parents
remember their allergist's instructions on how to use an epinephrine
auto-injector, which is the fastest way to prevent anaphylaxis symptoms
from progressing. Also, many parents couldn't remember getting a written
plan for emergencies from their doctors, which is another necessary component
for treating childhood allergy attacks."
"If your child has an allergy and you don't have a written plan
in place, you should talk with your doctor immediately," Dr. Villasenor
says. "Especially if your child goes to school or is frequently with
a caregiver such as a babysitter or family members. It's critical
that everyone is knowledgeable about the signs of an allergy attack and
how to treat it."
The emergency plan should include the doctor's diagnosis and the type
of food that causes the allergy; signs and symptoms of previous allergy
attacks; any history of anaphylactic attacks; medication the child takes
and whether the child is able to self-medicate in case of an emergency.
"This kind of information should be easily accessible at home for
parents and caregivers, and it should be given to school administrators,"
Dr. Villasenor says. "Parents will also want to talk with school
officials about what plans the school has in place to prevent food allergy
attacks and how it offers emergency care, whether it's with a trained
nurse on campus or calling 911."
The written emergency plan from your doctor should also include detailed
steps on the proper use of the epinephrine auto-injector. "Ask your
pediatrician or allergist to show you how the auto-injector works, walking
you through it until you feel comfortable enough to not only do it yourself,
but show your child's caregivers how to administer it as well,"
Dr. Villasenor says. "Dealing with an emergency allergy attack is
already stressful enough--you don't want to add to that stress because
you're not confident about using the epinephrine auto-injector.
"Knowing how to respond to an attack brought on by food allergies
is a growing necessity in America--according to the Northwestern University
study, 8 percent of children have a food allergy and about half of those
kids have already had a severe allergy attack," Dr. Villasenor says.
"Time is of the essence when it comes to dealing with an allergy
attack, and the extra time you devote to emergency preparedness now will
save you crucial minutes in the event of a severe reaction."
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.