With the frightening statistic that two Americans die each day from anaphylaxis, the Allergy & Asthma Network / Mothers of Asthmatics sponsored a conference to discuss recent research, legislative wins and other initiatives to help keep everyone with food allergies and asthma safe.
Collaborative communities of support. Improved strategies for people with life-threatening allergies. Greater awareness of anaphylaxis. And patient healthcare decisions based on facts, not fear.
These were among the central themes at the first USAnaphylaxis™ Summit, hosted by Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA) on Oct. 5 in Washington, D.C.
The summit brought together more than 50 leading allergists, pediatricians, school nurses, parents of food-allergic children, food allergy bloggers and others to share resources and help build a stronger community-based anaphylaxis network.
“Life-threatening allergies are on the rise, and two Americans die each day due to anaphylaxis,” said Tonya Winders, AANMA chief operating officer. “Our goal is to end the needless death and suffering due to allergy, asthma and anaphylaxis.”
Schools play a central role – indeed, many parents rely on school nurses, teachers and staff to help prevent an accidental food allergy exposure, said Michael Pistiner, MD, pediatric allergist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and co-founder of AllergyHome.org, a web site devoted to food allergy awareness and education.
Dr. Pistiner recommended healthcare providers work closely with school districts, parents and students. “We can reinforce and teach universal food allergy management strategies that are practical and evidence-based.”
John Lee, MD, a pediatric allergist at Boston Children’s Hospital who founded AllergyHome.org with Dr. Pistiner, stressed the need for greater communication among physicians, families, school nurses, teachers and other staff to avoid anaphylaxis, especially on field trips or when there’s a substitute teacher.
Prevention strategies in school include no-sharing food policies, frequent hand washing, careful reading of food labels, teaching students to ask for help, and carrying two epinephrine auto-injectors everywhere, every day. Epinephrine is the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis.
Matthew Greenhawt, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at University of Michigan, examined the controversial topic of peanut-free environments.
Anaphylaxis risk in schools and public places is real, but there’s no evidence to support that peanut or tree nut bans are effective, Dr. Greenhawt said. They may even create a false sense of security. In a recent University of Michigan study, 20 percent of 409 anaphylaxis reactions occurred in nut-free environments. Unless the food allergen is eaten, the risk of exposure is low, Dr. Greenhawt added.
The ability of schoolteachers to identify and prevent allergic reactions is essential, advised Lisa Albert, MSN, RN, a school nurse in Elizabethtown, Pa.
Albert encouraged school nurses to schedule meetings with teachers and instruct them how to identify anaphylaxis, respond to emergencies and use an epinephrine auto-injector.
AANMA board member Stanley Fineman, MD, MBA, past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), discussed the role allergists play in patient education and care coordination.
He cited a new study revealing the need for developing anaphylaxis action plans for food-allergic children and conducting practice drills with epinephrine auto-injectors at each doctor’s appointment.
Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, shared how pediatricians are taking a more active role in teaching patients to manage allergies and anaphylaxis.
“The pediatrician is often the first and sometimes only physician that parents and children talk to about allergies,” she said.