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Everyone responsible for a child may be at risk for witnessing an anaphylaxis reaction – including parents, school staff, family, friends and doctors. Meet Dr. Herman Sharma, whose nieces prompted him to study and become an allergy specialist. Anaphylaxis – not an easy word to say, but it can be simple to control and possibly save a life if the right actions are taken promptly.
Please share a bit about your background. What prompted you to become an allergy specialist?
Dr. Sharma: I am the clinical chief of the division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Health System in Washington DC. I became interested in allergy because of my own experience with my nieces who have food allergies. As a result of that, I am thrilled to be talking with you today about a new initiative we have to shine a spotlight on anaphylaxis – a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
What causes the more severe allergic reactions, and what signs indicate anaphylaxis?
Dr. Sharma: The most common triggers of anaphylaxis are food allergies, but other triggers can include insect stings and medications. The symptoms to look out for might include hives, problems breathing, tightness of the throat, nausea, and vomiting. If those symptoms are experienced, it’s important to immediately treat the child with an epinephrine auto-injector and then seek medical care.
Where do we get the epinephrine auto-injector?
Dr. Sharma: Anyone who believes that they or their child have symptoms that indicate a potentially life-threatening allergy should talk with their doctor and do testing if necessary to make the formal diagnosis. Then they would be prescribed epinephrine auto-injectors. It’s critical that anyone at risk have access to two epinephrine auto-injectors at all times, and that they know when and how to use them.
What is the purpose of having two injectors?
Dr. Sharma: The reason that the National Institute of Health’s food allergy guidelines recommend two is because up to 20% of reactions might actually require a second dose of epinephrine, and so it is advised that anyone at risk has 2 injectors available at all times.
Who is most at risk for severe allergic reactions?
Dr. Sharma: Anyone diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening allergy is at risk for anaphylaxis. If someone has had anaphylaxis in the past, that puts them at an even higher risk for having it again. But these reactions are unpredictable, so even if there’s been only mild symptoms in the past that doesn’t mean that future reactions might not be severe or potentially life-threatening.
You mentioned earlier that foods can cause allergic reactions. Which food groups tend to be the main culprits?
Dr. Sharma: There are a certain group of foods that account for over 90% of food allergies and those include peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Those are the most common food allergies that we encounter in children in the US.
What is the best way for parents to educate caretakers about their children’s allergies?
Dr. Sharma: What’s really important, and I do this with all of my patients, is to work with your child’s doctor to develop an Anaphylaxis Action Plan. This plan will review the allergic triggers that the child needs to avoid; it will also list the signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for, and then it will remind them to at all times have access to two epinephrine auto-injectors and know when to use them. And then finally, they need to seek immediate medical care after use of the epinephrine. So it’s critical to develop this Anaphylaxis Action Plan with your child’s doctor.
Are there any preventive measures to avoid the reaction all together?
Dr. Sharma: Absolute avoidance of the allergic triggers is the critical first step, but accidental exposures do occur and that’s why it’s really important that children at risk’s caregivers always be ready to respond in case anaphylaxis should occur.
Please share more about the campaign, the initiative:
Dr. Sharma: I’m really excited to be partnering with Mylan on this Anaphylaxis For Reel(TM) Initiative. The campaign is encouraging young filmmakers across the country to share their own personal stories about managing life-threatening allergies on a daily basis. Sarah Jessica Parker (her son has food allergies to peanuts and hazelnuts) is partnering on this initiative that encourages young people to shine a spotlight on what it’s like to live and to manage potentially life-threatening allergies.
For more information about the campaign, folks can visit anaphylaxis101.com; there they can read Sarah Jessica’s personal story about her son’s allergies and also submit their film. Up to 5 films are going to be selected to premiere in New York City with Sarah Jessica in the fall, and they will also be featured on the website anaphylaxis101.com.
We appreciate this insight, knowledge, and life saving medical advice on knowing how to protect our loved ones during a severe allergic reaction – anaphylaxis.
If you have allergies, check out the 3 Ways To Enjoy Holiday Parties (or any party), even if you have food sensitivities.