Teen’s death puts allergic reactions in national spotlight
The severity of food allergies in children has made headlines recently after a 13-year-old California child died after a severe allergic reaction to peanut butter. The incident sheds light on the growing number of children with serious food allergies in the United States.
“Food allergies appear to be more common in children nowadays,” says Dr. Christine Mueller, family practice physician at Advocate Sherman Hospital, Elgin, Ill. “The positive news is that more people are aware of the severity of food allergies and more steps are being taken from a public health perspective. However, the bad news is that there are more people at risk for serious allergic reactions.”
According to a study in Pediatrics, food allergies in the past decade have become more common for kids. Researchers found that 8 percent of children 18-years-old and younger have at least one food allergy. Of those children, 39 percent have had a serious allergic reaction. The most common types of food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, soy, wheat and eggs.
To prevent an allergic reaction, parents should carefully read food labels and educate their children on foods to avoid. “Particularly with peanut allergies, the contact can be very simple and still cause a serious reaction,” Dr. Mueller says. “This could include items processed in the same factory with peanuts.”
According to Dr. Leanne Ostrodka, pediatrician at Advocate Sherman, parents should carry an Epinephrine Pen (EpiPen), a life-saving medication, wherever they go with their child, whether a restaurant or the playground. Additionally, parents need to inform their child’s school of the allergy to ensure that staff is prepared. “Everyone who is in contact with the child, whether a parent, teacher or babysitter should know how to recognize symptoms and use an EpiPen as soon as symptoms occur,” Dr. Ostrodka explains.
In the event of an allergic reaction, parents need to know the symptoms of anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, and what steps to take in this situation.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include a rapid, weak pulse, nausea, vomiting and skin rash. A child experiencing a severe allergic reaction should be given an EpiPen immediately and taken to the emergency department, Dr. Mueller says.
“Even though you may avert the original reaction with epinephrine, in the long run the reaction may come back after the medicine wears off,” Dr. Mueller says. “Don’t underestimate the significance of a serious food allergy.”
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