31 May Severe Food Allergies: The EpiPen Challenge
Food allergies and access to epinephrine auto-injectors continues to be a growing challenge in both the US and Canada. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), every 3 minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER. And, between 1997 and 2011, childhood food allergies have increased by 50%! These affected children spend much of their day in school, where they may be exposed to food allergies, which could trigger a severe reaction, known as anaphylaxis.
During this type of reaction, common symptoms can include breaking out in hives, difficulty breathing, nausea, tongue swelling, and fainting, just to name a few. In the event of an allergic reaction, epinephrine should be administered and medical assistance is required immediately. Schools should make it a priority to have written protocols in place that provide guidance to the school staff on what to do if a student has an allergic reaction. According to a recent survey of K-12 schools, only 82% of schools have created written policies and procedures for allergies. This means that there is an alarming 18% of schools that do not have set guidelines on how allergies should be handled within their school.
The Decline in Access to Auto-Injectors
Over the last couple of years, the general public has seen a drastic decrease in access to epinephrine injectors, or, as they are more commonly known, EpiPens. Epinephrine is an adrenaline medication that can be automatically injected into the body to slow the effects of an allergic reaction. These injectors are prescribed to adults and children alike. For people that have life-threatening allergies, having access to an EpiPen (or an alternative like Auvi-Q) is vital, and this shortage poses a significant challenge for patients. The deficit has been particularly problematic for children as Pfizer, the company responsible for manufacturing the EpiPen and all of its variations, frequently runs out of stocks of their EpiPen Junior devices.
Even though the root cause of the EpiPen shortage is the manufacturer, access is being further limited by insurance providers who are increasing the ‘out-of-pocket’ costs for patients due to the decrease in supply and increase in demand. What was previously a minimal cost has now become a significant one. Depending on the health insurance provider, an EpiPen can cost hundreds of dollars ‘out-of-pocket’. For a lot of people in the US who have minimal to no insurance coverage, this eliminates access to the life-saving medication entirely. Many are turning to auto-injector alternatives like the above-mentioned Auvi-Q that are covered under their insurance.
Expanding Access to Epinephrine in Schools
To alleviate the EpiPen shortage, several states in the US are allowing schools to maintain an emergency supply of epinephrine auto-injectors on campus. This ensures that if a student has a severe allergic reaction and does not have their own injector, staff can still provide life-saving care. Such a policy is particularly important for student-athletes who are off campus a lot, school summer camps, and other extracurricular activities where a student may forget to bring along their own injector. In 2013, the US President signed the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act into law. This federal law encourages states to implement policies requiring schools to stock undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors for use in emergencies.
Overall, regardless of what type of auto-injector is used, it is vital that everyone suffering from severe allergies has access to their life-saving medications, whether they acquire personal injectors or schools have a supply on hand for their students.
**This blog post is not professional health advice, nor is it a substitute for professional health advice. Please consult with a licensed physician prior to making any changes to your current Allergy Action Plan.**