Physicians are not adequately educating parents about how and when to use epinephrine auto-injectors to treat a child in an emergency situation, according to a recent study. Administering epinephrine quickly in a child experiencing anaphylaxis, the most severe food allergy reaction and one that is life-threatening, is crucial. If parents are not clear on when and how to use the device, the results could be tragic. The new study points out this disturbing lack of education, but also makes both physicians and parents aware of the need so changes can be made.
A Lack of Communication
What the study found was a troubling lack of communication between doctors and parents of kids with food allergies. The research was done through the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University’s medical school. Researchers surveyed nearly 900 parents of children who visited a doctor at least twice a year for food allergies.
What they found through the survey was that fewer than 70 percent of parents could remember their child’s allergist explaining how and when to use an epinephrine auto-injector. Even fewer, less than 40 percent, said they could recall their pediatricians giving epinephrine instructions. The study demonstrates that communication and education regarding this life-saving treatment is inadequate. Too many parents may not know how or when to use epinephrine to save their child’s life.
Food Allergy Reaction Treatment Guidelines
The researchers of the study point out that the results show that not enough allergists and pediatricians are following the official guidelines for treatment of food allergy reactions. The National institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases sets these important guidelines for clinical practice to ensure the best prevention, treatment and management of food allergies.
The guidelines’ recommendations for managing anaphylaxis in children with food allergies include the doctors’ responsibility to educate parents and families. The recommendations say doctors should teach parents about avoiding allergens, recognizing symptoms of reactions and completing an emergency action plan for anaphylaxis, and how to administer epinephrine.
In the study, researchers found that crucial elements of these guidelines are not being followed by enough doctors. In particular, three are lacking: when to use epinephrine, how to use an epinephrine auto-injector, and creating and providing an emergency action plan. They also found that not all doctors were prescribing epinephrine to all patients diagnosed with food allergies, as recommended by the guidelines.
What You Need From Your Pediatrician or Allergist
It’s clear from the research that some doctors need to provide better education for the parents of their food-allergic patients. As a parent, you have a responsibility too, and by knowing that you might not be getting all the information, you can take action and request it. When you visit your child’s doctor, make sure you get a prescription for epinephrine. Also make sure that you are instructed in how to use it and also when to use it.
The study’s researchers suggested that some of the parents who couldn’t remember being taught how to use epinephrine auto-injectors may have been shown, but did not absorb the information. They recommend that doctors instruct parents and then ask the parents to repeat the information back to them. This helps with information retention. When your child’s doctor shows you how and when to use the injector, whether he or she asks you too or not, take the time to repeat it back so you are sure you understood the information correctly and that you remember it.
Another issue was the lack of emergency anaphylaxis action plans. The guidelines recommend that doctors provide parents with this plan, which is a written document that outlines symptoms of a food allergy reaction and what to do in the case of mild and severe symptoms. The plan should be distributed to all caregivers like babysitters, grandparents and teachers.
By knowing that doctors are not always giving parents the information they need, or not communicating it in a way that helps parents remember it, you can take the matter into your own hands. If your child has a food allergy, visit your pediatrician or allergist and ask to be clearly taught how and when to use the injector and to be given an action plan. Taking these steps and being educated could save your child’s life.