Do You Know How to Use Your Child's EpiPen?

A frightening new study suggests many parents of children with food allergies won't be prepared if the worst happens.

Epi Pen
Photo: San Jose Mercury News/Getty Images

According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), food allergies affect 1 in 13 kids. So a new study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, which found doctors don't always show parents how to use potentially life-saving epinephrine auto-injectors, or go over emergency planning with them, is especially scary.

Researchers from the Northwestern Medicine and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago surveyed 859 parents and learned that less than 70 percent recall their allergists having talked with them about the proper way to use epinephrine auto-injectors, or an emergency allergy action plan. Less than 40 percent say their pediatricians discussed these vital topics with them. Even fewer parents report being shown what to do in the case of an allergy attack.

"These points need to be hammered home by the physician at every visit," says Dr. Ruchi Gupta. "This is potentially life-saving information. Physicians need to make sure patients understand when and how to use epinephrine and that they have an emergency action plan." In light of the study findings he adds, "There is a gap in the communication between doctors and parents in management of their children's food allergies that we need to fix."

Gupta recommends physicians make sure parents can repeat back to them the directions they learned. He cautions, "Parents may not be digesting all the information given to them in a short period of time." Not only that, but I'm sure many parents feel overwhelmed, stressed, and scared about their child's allergy.

Frighteningly, one possible explanation for the lack of guidance from physicians is that previous studies reveal pediatricians themselves aren't adequately trained on how to use epinephrine auto-injectors, and feel uncomfortable demonstrating the technique to patients! That just shouldn't be. If doctors don't know how to use the devices, how can parents be expected to? This issue clearly needs to be addressed from the top down. Kids' lives depend on it.

If your child has food allergies, were you shown how to use epinephrine auto-injectors, and do you have an emergency plan in place?

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.

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