Brenda Olsen: Protecting allergy-prone children


Published: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 3, 2013 at 4:48 p.m.

As a longtime advocate for the protection of children, especially those who suffer from severe, life-threatening allergies, my organization the American Lung Association is very pleased the Florida legislature passed, and Gov. Rick Scott has signed, a bill that can provide life-saving measures for these kids.

This law allows Florida schools to keep an emergency supply of epinephrine auto-injectors to be used in case of anaphylaxis. Even if the child does not have a prescription, trained school officials will be able to administer the emergency medication.

For children under 18, allergy is the third most common chronic disease in the United States. Additionally, food allergy is more common among children than adults. A simple interaction with a school-prepared peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a classmate's birthday cake, can lead to an emergency circumstance called anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is an explosive reaction that occurs when a person comes in contact with something to which they are allergic and the airways rapidly close. This condition can be fatal if epinephrine is not promptly and properly administered. Many of us might be familiar with someone with a potentially life threatening allergy, such as foods like peanuts and shellfish, or stinging insects like bees and fire ants. In some cases, a dangerous allergic reaction can occur in response to medications or even latex rubber. These situations or exposures are even more frightening when the allergy is not known until a reaction occurs.

There are no cures for allergies. This means prevention and treatment are vital — as an incident can quickly escalate to a life or death situation quickly. Epinephrine auto-injectors are the only way to stop an anaphylactic episode. However, since airways constrict quickly, the medication must be administered immediately. School officials and employees can easily be trained in recognizing anaphylaxis and using the epinephrine auto-injector in order to avoid fatal reactions.

For these reasons, the American Lung Association in Florida applauds our governor and legislature for ensuring some of our most vulnerable children are protected.

Brenda Olsen is chief operating officer of the American Lung Association in Florida.

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