A new study by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology finds half of all children who suffered a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, and then went to a hospital emergency room had not been given epinephrine, the drug of choice to treat this condition.

“It’s shocking as an allergist to see this under-utilization. We know that anaphylaxis can be life threatening,” said Dr. Clifford Bassett, a spokesman for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

He said it’s very important to look at “what we can do better, how we can educate the public, parents, caregivers and so forth to provide the necessary education. Parents, caregivers need to know that epinephrine should always be the first line of defense.”

"Sometimes individuals are given antihistamines because it’s more convenient, they’re more familiar with it. That is not the drug of choice. That can be a secondary treatment but that’s not the primary treatment," he says.

“If an individual is at risk of having a food allergy, or a generalized food allergic reaction, we want to have a game-plan to treat it,” he said.”

He noted the study found those children that had been treated with epinephrine were more likely to be discharged from the hospital and sent home.

Bassett says if someone in your family has had severe allergic reactions to food, “you’re at greater risk for it as well.”

In other words, use epinephrine if you’ve been prescribed it.

“Have a second dose with you if you have anaphylaxis and have a card so if you’re eating outside the home. It’s called the 'chef ingredient card' so that the server in the restaurant is prepared for you,” he said.

There are many symptoms of anaphylaxis, including shortness of breath, wheezing, heart palpitations, tightness in the throat, hoarseness, trouble breathing. Less severe symptoms may also include itchiness, runny nose, hives and nausea.

“In children, the most common food allergies are milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, while in adults the most common food allergy is shellfish,” he said.

He noted the tendency to not use epinephrine “is particularly likely in the teen years where perhaps they feel for other reasons they don’t want to carry it, they don’t want to stand out.”

Another factor is “probably a fear, in terms of injecting a medication rather than taking a pill or a syrup, and it may be a fear factor.”

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