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Why Kentucky schools should prepare for allergic reactions

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Guest column by Tami Pyles

When it comes to protecting our children, most parents are willing to do just about anything to ensure their safety. But do our schools do the same?

We all hope our schools also take the necessary precautions to ensure our children are safe at school. That’s why Kentucky worked hard to pass a law last year to encourage schools to carry epinephrine auto-injectors on site in case of a severe allergic reaction.

Every year, 30,000 emergency room visits occur as a result of anaphylaxis. It is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that must be treated with an expeditious administration of epinephrine (adrenaline). An anaphylactic reaction can occur quickly after exposure to an allergen and has serious symptoms including swelling, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Because of the severity and rapid progression of these symptoms, anaphylaxis is a medical emergency.

Anaphylaxis can be caused by a number of things. While reactionsmost commonly are caused by foods, including shellfish and more commonly peanuts, they also can be caused by latex, medications and insect stings.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened recently in our neighboring state of Tennessee. A third grader was playing outside at recess when he was stung by a wasp. The boy, who had no known allergies, rapidly began experiencing the serious symptoms of anaphylaxis.

Thinking quickly, his nurse administered an epinephrine auto-injector that the school had on hand, reducing his symptoms and defusing a potentially life-threatening situation.

Fortunately, Tennessee had implemented a law encouraging schools to carry the medication and the boy’s school had the necessary auto-injectors on site to help save his life. But what if they hadn’t?

It’s clear that in order to properly protect our children, schools should carry these necessary lifesavers, even if Kentucky law only encourages, rather than requires it.

In many cases, like this one in Tennessee, a reaction cannot be predicted if allergies are unknown. School-aged children frequently experience their first reaction in the classroom, the lunchroom or at recess. A 2010 study published in Pediatrics magazine looking at data about food-triggered anaphylaxis found that 25 percent reactions in schools occur among students without a previous food allergy diagnosis.

Another important reason our schools should stock epinephrine auto-injectors is the rise of food allergies among school-age children. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the prevalence of food allergies and therefore the risk of anaphylaxis.

According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Today, it is estimated that 1 out of every 13 children has a food allergy.

Many children, like my own, are highly allergic to nuts. Even leftover residue or dust from nuts can send highly allergic individuals into a dangerous allergic reaction. It is vitally important that school administrators, teachers and nurses have the tools they need and are prepared to take quick action, especially when time is of the essence and allergies are discovered for the first time at school.

While there is definitely room for schools to become more educated on allergies and anaphylaxis, a first step to ensuring the safety of all children, especially those with unknown allergies, is by carrying life-saving epinephrine auto-injectors.

Tami Pyles of Louisville is a freelance writer and mother of two children with food allergies.Reach her at tamipyles@yahoo.com.