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Don’t fear the EpiPen (even if it’s someone else’s child)

By Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson, health enews, a news service from Advocate Health Care

You’re hosting your child’s birthday party, and one of the little guests arrives with an EpiPen. No need to fear. Using an epinephrine auto-injector, such as EpiPen®, is easier than you think and is a must-know for any parent, teacher, coach or anyone who spends time with kids.

One in 13 children in the U.S. has a food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Children with severe food allergies are often prescribed an EpiPen – a pen-like device that lets you inject a single dose of epinephrine at the first sign of anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening severe allergic reaction.

“Reactions can range from mild to severe and typically occur within minutes to several hours after ingesting or being exposed to an allergen,” says Dr. Joann Ruiz, a pediatrician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. “It’s important for adults to be able to recognize the symptoms of a reaction and know what immediate actions to take to avoid a life-threatening situation.”

Here’s what you need to know if you have a child with food allergies at your next birthday party, field trip or sleepover.

  1. Ask in advance about food allergies

On your birthday invitations or when scheduling a play date, be sure to ask about food allergies. This will help you plan your menu, treats and goodie bags accordingly.

“Peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish account for the majority of food allergies,” says Dr. Ruiz. “Read labels carefully, and when in doubt, ask the child’s parent if certain foods are okay.”

  1. Pay attention for symptoms of an allergic reaction

Kids have a hard time explaining what is happening to them, especially when they’re scared, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms of a reaction and be able to interpret their explanations of how they’re feeling.

Symptoms of mild reactions:

  • Hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin)
  • Redness of the skin or around the eyes
  • Itchy mouth or ear canal
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain
  • Nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing

To explain these symptoms, kids might say things like:

  • “My tongue is hot and itchy.”
  • “It feels like something’s poking my tongue.”
  • “My mouth is tingling.”
  • “There’s something stuck in my throat.”
  • “It feels like there are bugs in my ears.”

Symptoms of severe reactions that may require immediate medical attention include:

  • Obstructive swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat
  • Trouble swallowing, hoarseness
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain
  • Turning pale, feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out
  1. Know when to use an EpiPen and call 911

Dr. Ruiz suggests talking to the child’s parent ahead of time about their preferred course of action for handling a mild reaction and be ready to contact them immediately should you see any symptoms.

However, at the first sign of a severe reaction, you should administer the EpiPen and then call 911. Here’s how:

  • Hold the EpiPen firmly in your fist with the tip pointing down.
  • Remove the activation cap and position the pen so the tip is near the child’s outer thigh.
  • Swing your arm up and jab the pen tip firmly into the outer thigh.
  • Leave the pen in for several seconds to make sure the full dose is delivered as you call 911.

Don’t be afraid to ask the child’s parent for a quick tutorial on how to use the EpiPen – it may make you both feel more comfortable and confident should a situation arise.

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