ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Two decades ago, it was rare to know a child who had a food allergy. Now, the odds are 1 in 13.
Food allergy advocates have gone from isolation to a broad community seeking more protection.
Today concludes our series of special reports on Food Allergies: The Deadly Dish.
Strides for Safe Kids is a gathering of families who understand what it means to live with food allergies.
“We have 12 identified food allergiesc… peanut, tree nut, milk, egg, garlic, onion, kiwi, avocado, ham, coconut and chick pea and sesame.”
The explosion in food allergies has more families seeking support. The St. Louis region has its own Facebook group, Gateway FEAST, where parents share everything from safe recipes to frustrations.
It was food allergy parents’ repeated objections on social media that helped spark a national outcry about the rising price of EpiPens.
Advocates say there are other battles to fight.
“The reality there is that your experience as a food allergic individual travelling on the airlines is pretty much left to the individual airlines discretion.”
Scott Riccio is Senior Vice President for Education and Advocacy with FARE – Food Allergy Research and Education.
Will that tiny pack of peanuts really cause a problem? Researchers have found residue on tray tables and seats “and the amounts that are found are certainly enough to cause allergic reactions,” Riccio says.
Disability laws that cover public places don’t apply to airlines. Commercial flights are stocked with epinephrine but most flight crews are prohibited from using it. Best hope there’s a medical professional with a ticket.
“We’ve been fortunate not to have a major disaster that we’re aware of on the airlines.”
Other potential tragedies are closer to home.
Erin Malawer is the author of Allergy Shmallergy, a blog about her son’s multiple, severe allergies. She says it’s “scary” that “as a regular person with limited training … I had more authority to deliver my son’s medication than someone who’s taken months of classes.”
She’s also written about the so-called “911 Lottery.” Depending on where you live and who responds to your 911 call, the ambulance might not have be equipped to handle food allergy emergencies.
“Not every ambulance carries epinephrine and not all emergency medical personnel are authorized to use it, even when it’s present,” Malawer says.
In Missouri, Advanced Life Support units, staffed by paramedics, typically carry epinephrine. But a basic life support ambulance isn’t likely to carry any of the life-saving drug.
“The people inside are typically EMT basics which means they are not authorized to provide injections by syringe, but they can assist a patients with the pre-prescribed auto injector, like an EpiPen,” Malawer says.
Washington University’s Dr. David Tan says the St. Louis metro region’s most basic ambulances are for routine patient transportation. Only the Advanced units answer emergencies.
“They should not feel any anxiety that the ambulance coming won’t have epinephrine or won’t have personnel that could deliver that lifesaving medication,” Tan says.
There could be exceptions, such as events where there are first aid stations or in rural areas where scheduling and availability of advanced service providers may be a challenge.
To get around those issues, some states have mandated all ambulances carry epinephrine auto injectors, allowing any EMT to use them.
“That would represent a tremendous financial burden on a medication that typically is not going to be used that often,” Tan says.
That’s what fire protection districts and ambulance services discovered in Illinois. They were spending thousands of dollars every year to replace expired devices. A change in Illinois law will allow all levels of EMTs to administer epinephrine by syringe as an inexpensive option.
Could that be a solution in Missouri? Tan says it would depend on resources and training.
The bottom line is someone with severe food allergies should have their own auto injectors and know how to use them in an emergency.
“By the time an ambulance comes the patient may be too far gone to even benefit from the epinephrine that’s administered by the ambulance crew. Anaphylaxis can deteriorate that fast.”
Food is a necessity. It’s woven into so many of our social activities. But for some, it also brings grave risks.
“Perhaps some of us are overprotective … perhaps some of us are helicopter parents, but it’s because we don’t know. When we send our child to school where they’re surrounded with something that could kill them, every day you think, the phone rings, are they going to tell me my child is in the hospital.”
More than restrictions and regulations, families long for understanding and help to keep their kids safe one more day.
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