For individuals with severe allergies, immediate access to an EpiPen can mean the difference between life and death. The dose of epinephrine counteracts some of an allergic reaction's most dangerous symptoms, like a plunge in blood pressure and closing of the airways. But a disturbing new study shows that when a child has an allergic reaction, many caregivers fail to administer an EpiPen.
The study, which was published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology last month, analyzed the patient records of over 400 children and young adults from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. The average age of the patients in the study was seven years old. Lead author Melissa Robinson and her team found that only 36 percent of patients experiencing anaphylaxis were given epinephrine before they arrived at the hospital.
Robinson says the findings show a greater need for education that teaches caregivers "how to use the autoinjectors" and "what signs to look for."
Approximately 65 percent of the patients surveyed had a known history of anaphylaxis and half of this group had been prescribed epinephrine in the past. However, among the patients who had been prescribed epinephrine, only 70 percent had the medication with them at the time of the allergy attack.
Robinson and her team also noted that there was a major difference between the patients who arrived at the emergency room after being given epinephrine and those who hadn't. Children whose caregivers had administered an EpiPen were 60 percent more likely to be discharged from the hospital rather than admitted.
Robinson speculates that a major part of the problem is that parents and caregivers often don't recognize symptoms of anaphylaxis quickly enough (or at all). Some of the most common symptoms include hives, trouble breathing, and vomiting, all which occur within two hours of being exposed to an allergen. She suggests administering epinephrine when two body symptoms react to the allergen (for example, hives and vomiting indicate that both the stomach and skin have been affected).
"If you’re not sure to the point where you’re thinking about it, I tell parents it’s better to give it than to wait," Robinson said.