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Food Allergy Awareness: Know the Six Steps to Save a Life

food allergies, anaphylaxis, severe food reaction, children's health

Food allergy is a growing public health concern. As many as 15 million people have food allergies, including nearly 6 million children. The prevalence of food allergies and associated anaphylaxis are on the rise. The CDC reports an 18% increase in cases since 1997.

Food allergies result in more than 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year in children and teens under the age of 18. Every 3 minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department. Failure to respond promptly to treat anaphylactic reactions is a risk factor for fatality.

While any food could potentially cause anaphylaxis, the most common offending ingredients are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, cow’s milk and eggs. These foods account for about half of all anaphylaxis cases and 100 US deaths each year.

Knowing what to do if someone is having a severe allergic reaction is essential to saving their life.

1. Know the signs and symptoms of a serious food allergy reaction:
• Hives, itching, and/or skin redness
• Swelling of the tongue, lips or throat
• Breathing difficulty, wheezing, or coughing
• Stomach cramps or vomiting or diarrhea
• Feeling faint/drop in blood pressure

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2. In Anaphylaxis, use the auto-injector right away. Then call 911 to report a food allergy emergency.
Epinephrine shots (one well-known brand name is Epi-Pen) are given in the outer thigh muscle. Allergists say that if you suspect an anaphylactic reaction, err on the side of caution and give the drug immediately. Antihistamines, such as Benadryl, are acceptable as a secondary medication only. They will not halt anaphylaxis.

3. Time is of the Essence
In studies of those who have died due to anaphylaxis, they most typically did not receive the epinephrine injection soon enough. Prompt use of your Epi-Pen is essential to prevent the reaction from progressing.

4. Go to the hospital.
Some make the mistake of “waiting” to see if the Epi-Pen works. The patient MUST be taken to the emergency room for observation and possibly additional medicines. During transport (or if you have a long wait for an emergency vehicle), if symptoms have not improved within 10 to 15 minutes, a second auto-injection should be given.

5. Reclining is best.
During the ambulance ride, the patient should be lying down with legs raised to improve blood flow. However, if the patient is having trouble breathing, do not place a pillow under their head as this could block the airway. NIAID guidelines also recommend the patient be given oxygen and IV fluid.

6. Don’t Go it Alone.
No person should be expected to be fully responsible for self-administration of an epinephrine auto-injector. Assistance during an anaphylactic reaction is critical. Make sure friends and famly (and teachers) are trained in the steps to treat anaphylaxis.

Allergic Living Magazine: Six that Save Lives
Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE)
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology