10/04/2011 06:19 pm ET | Updated Jan 04, 2012

It Is Time for National Education of Life-threatening Allergic Reactions

Anaphylaxis, a progressive and life-threatening allergic reaction, isn't always easy to identify. According to the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI) website:

"Any one of the following symptoms is a sign of a dangerous reaction that requires immediate medical attention:"

  • Obstructive swelling of the lips, tongue and/or throat

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Turning blue
  • Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out)
  • Losing consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • Weak pulse
  • Sense of "impending doom"
  • As the parent of a child with multiple anaphylactic allergies, I've learned that any delay in treatment of anaphylaxis can cost my child his life, so I tote an EpiPen containing liquid epinephrine. But what if a child shows signs of anaphylaxis and an EpiPen isn't readily available? The next step should be to take an ambulance to the closest hospital. Unlike other emergency medical conditions, like choking or loss of breath, anaphylaxis cannot be halted without medication.

    We are all familiar with the life-saving technique of CPR, Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation. Our national collective knowledge of CPR began in the 1950s when the technique of lung compression was first developed. By 1966 official training standards and programs were developed as statistical incidences of pulmonary deaths declined.

    But it's fairly easy to observe when someone isn't breathing, and currently CPR technique is widely administered. Since the early stages of allergic anaphylaxis may not be as obvious, the American public should be given a similar opportunity to learn to recognize signs of anaphylaxis and to initiate an appropriate emergency response. Educational institutions, hospitals and private care doctors are just beginning to address this allergy education as public incidents of anaphylaxis increase.

    Last week, in Clemson, S.C., a 4-year-old girl began to cough and complain of stomach pains after one bite into a walnut-studded brownie before entering a stadium football game, and she had the good fortune of receiving help from a county deputy who recognized the early onset of anaphylaxis. This is the first line of their happily-ever-after story. The Anderson County Deputy, Tracy Call, happened to have a son with a nut allergy and correctly guessed the 4-year-old needed an ambulance. The girl's lips and face began swelling while still in that ambulance, and fortunately her life was saved.

    The girl's parents weren't familiar with the signs of allergic anaphylaxis, since that was her first food allergy reaction. So what if they hadn't thought to call an ambulance? What if they had entered the crowded stadium? Would someone else in that crowd have known what to do... in time? Rather than pose questions, we should use Deputy Tracy Call as our answer. All Americans would benefit from a national education concerning allergic anaphylaxis -- especially our children.