Legislation could save lives of severly food-allergic children: Guest commentary
Years of working in general internal medicine never prepared me for what our family has endured since our young son was diagnosed with severe and life-threatening food allergies. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. This potentially deadly disease affects 1 in every 13 children (under 18 years of age) in the U.S. That is roughly two in every classroom.
At 8 months, my son’s face swelled up and he had difficultly breathing after eating a vegetarian homemade dish. My wife and I rushed him to a local urgent care where the symptoms subsided and he was given Benadryl. We didn’t know at the time what could have caused his reaction but a few months later, after turning 1, he tasted frozen yogurt and within 40 minutes began vomiting, turned blue and lost consciousness. All I could do was lay him down in shock position and be prepared to start CPR, if needed, until the paramedics arrived. Unfortunately, we did not have an epinephrine auto-injector on hand that would have quickly reversed this reaction. His stint in the emergency room, an overnight stay in the hospital followed by a visit with an allergist confirmed that he had food allergies. One year later, a similar reaction occurred after eating a flaxseed cracker. This time our son’s life was saved with the use of an epinephrine auto-injector.
According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.
With food allergies on the rise, many states across the country, including California, are talking about how to improve access to epinephrine auto-injectors in schools. Similar legislation passed in more than 30 states has given schools the opportunity to stock epinephrine auto-injectors to administer when a life-threatening allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, occurs at school.
California law currently authorizes public schools to train personnel to administer epinephrine auto-injectors to children suffering from an anaphylactic reaction who supply their own epinephrine auto-injectors by prescription. However, the state does not require schools to stock the auto-injectors for those who do not have a prescription for epinephrine. Senate Bill 1266, authored by Sen. Bob Huff. R-Walnut, would require public schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors for any child who suffers a severe allergic reactions during school hours. This practice has already saved lives in other states.
These laws are critical because reports show that among children with food allergies who have experienced anaphylaxis at school, 25 percent had not previously been diagnosed with a food allergy. Additionally, severe reactions requiring epinephrine can occur as a result of exposure to bee stings, latex or other allergens. This legislation will help save the lives of those who experience an anaphylactic reaction and don’t have a prescribed epinephrine auto-injector.
Our constant vigilance of our son’s food intake has inspired us to educate others about food allergies. I have led food allergy education lectures at our son’s schools and summer camps. In addition, my wife and I created the San Fernando Valley Food Allergy Support Group when we saw a lack of group support in our area. Parents from neighboring cities come together in-person or virtually to share stories, tips, support and referrals.
SB 1266 will provide an additional layer of safety for all of our school children, both with and without previously diagnosed food allergies. I urge the Assembly Appropriations Committee to stand in support with parents like me who want to place a simple and safe solution to stock epinephrine auto-injectors and prevent potential and unnecessary deaths.
Dr. Fredric Adler is a clinical professor of medicine at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, a practicing physician in internal medicine, and a resident of Sherman Oaks.
So, BHDS parents, what do you think? SB 1266 could have an immediate impact on public schools. Do you think our school should stock epinephrine?