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New laws allow schools to give life-saving care to children with severe allergies

December 04, 2013

On November 13, 2013 President Obama signed into law the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, a law that will help schools become better prepared to care for children with severe allergies in the event of an emergency. Earlier this year, Florida also passed a law that allows schools to offer life-saving treatment to those children in need.

While this is excellent news for those who have been diagnosed with severe allergies, it is extremely important for the rest of us, too.

Do you know why?

Because about one quarter of all life-threatening allergic reactions occur in children who have not previously been diagnosed with an allergy.

Also, about one in 25 children have some type of food allergy. This means, there is a strong possibility that you, one of your children, someone in your family or someone that you know will develop a food allergy sometime in their lives. And given the amount of time that children spend in school (and away from the watchful eyes of their parents), it’s important for schools to be prepared to care for a child in the event of an allergic emergency (also called anaphylaxis).

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening immune reaction that happens when a person is exposed to an allergen. An allergen can be almost anything- commonly foods, insect bites or medicines. When anaphylaxis occurs, it can cause a narrowing of the airways (making it difficult to breathe) and a sudden drop in blood pressure, and it can quickly lead to unconsciousness and death. Receiving the appropriate treatment as quickly as possible truly can make the difference between life and death.

How do we treat anaphylaxis?

The treatment for anaphylaxis is an injection of epinephrine, and the quicker it is administered the better. Until this year, schools in Florida were not allowed to stock epinephrine without a child-specific prescription. Say, for example, that one child with a known allergy had a prescription for epinephrine and that child’s medication was stored at the school. However, a different child with no previously known allergies had an anaphylactic reaction. The school couldn’t legally administer life-saving treatment to the child in distress.

Schools will be better prepared to help when emergencies occur

This new federal law provides financial incentives for states who develop a plan in which schools would be able to: store an emergency supply of epinephrine, permit trained staff to administer epinephrine when needed, and ensure that trained staff are available to administer epinephrine during all hours of the school day.

And in fact, Florida is already ahead of the game. Our state lawmakers passed a law earlier this year allowing both public and private schools to store and administer epinephrine to a child with anaphylaxis, even if the child doesn’t have a prescription. It also allows students with a prescription for epinephrine to carry the medication with them and self-inject if needed.

There is one glitch, though. Schools are required to develop a physician-approved protocol for training staff to recognize signs of anaphylaxis and to administer epinephrine. They are also allowed to stock epinephrine, but not required to do so. While it’s not illegal anymore in Florida to maintain a supply of epinephrine at school, it’s still not a guarantee. Be sure to check with your child’s school to determine whether epinephrine is available in case of emergency.

Both our federal and state lawmakers have made great strides in the quest to ensure our children’s health and safety while they attend school. Young lives will be saved because of these measures- and that’s good for everyone.