Allergies can be deadly, but saving a life is as easy as giving a shot of epinephrine. EpiPens, auto-injectors that quickly deliver a dose of epinephrine, are easy to use and can reverse anaphylaxis in both adults and children. New legislation may lead to the important step of insuring every school in the country is stocked with these life-saving devices.
Anaphylaxis and EpiPens
Many students who know they have a potentially deadly allergy carry an EpiPen, or have one on file at school. Whether it is bee stings, a peanut allergy or something else, many allergens can cause anaphylactic shock, which left untreated, can be fatal. Anaphylaxis is characterized by swelling in the face and throat that makes breathing difficult. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, coughing, trouble swallowing, hives and itchy skin, heart palpitations, nausea, and slurred speech. Anaphylactic shock develops very quickly, but it can be reversed with a shot of epinephrine and follow-up emergency medical care.
Children who have a known allergy that has the potential to cause anaphylaxis may carry an EpiPen for emergencies and have one on file at school. However, not everyone is aware of an allergy. According to Food Allergy Research and Education, between 20 and 25 percent of cases in which an EpiPen is used in a school involved someone who had an unrecognized allergy. If an EpiPen was not available in those instances, the situation could have turned fatal.
Because not all allergies are diagnosed before a serious case of anaphylaxis occurs, having EpiPens on hand in schools can save lives. President Obama took an important step toward making that happen when he signed the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act into law on November 13th, 2013. The law encourages schools across the country to be prepared for serious allergy attacks by keeping a stock of EpiPens.
The new law encourages schools to stock EpiPens by giving preferential grant funding. States that require schools to maintain a stock of EpiPens will be given more access to grants from the Department of Health and Human Services. The grants are focused on asthma treatment and are another important aspect in helping save the lives of children.
While the move by the president to sign the new law is a big and important step toward getting life-saving auto injectors into schools, the real change must come on a state-by-state basis. The federal law provides funding motivation for states to require EpiPens in schools, but each state must sign its own law to make it happen. In 2013, sixteen states created new laws to require EpiPens in schools. This is in addition to nine states that already had such laws on the books.
More than half of all states now require schools to stock up on EpiPens, and several other states are working toward that goal. Still, nearly half of all states do not ensure that kids are protected by having this simple, life-saving device on hand at all times. Thankfully, that should change with the new federal law. When all schools across the country stock EpiPens, all parents will be able to rest a little more easily.