In a frightening survey sponsored by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), results showed there are huge gaps in knowledge of allergens and symptoms of anaphylaxis among emergency room doctors, pediatricians, family medicine practitioners and even allergists/immunologists. This makes it even more important for parents to educate themselves in order to be strong advocates for their children who have severe food or other allergies.
An “Anaphylaxis in America” survey team finds All Doctors’ Knowledge is NOT the Same
By Kristen Stewart
Every second counts when it comes to an anaphylaxis attack. Parents and children with life-threatening allergies know this. Legislators in many states who have passed bills to stock epinephrine in schools know this. Almost all physicians know this too. In the abstract.
That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, there’s also some less-than-good news. According to a recent study by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), there are some startling gaps in doctors’ specific knowledge.
“The survey revealed some alarming findings,” said Mike Tringale, MSM,
Senior Vice President of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and one of the authors of the 'Anaphylaxis in America' survey. “For example, not all physicians recognized coughing, skin reactions and abdominal pain as possible symptoms of anaphylaxis. Also, many physicians didn’t identify tree nuts, milk or eggs as foods likely to cause a severe allergic reaction.”
For the survey, over 300 physicians including allergy/immunology specialists (half pediatric and half with internal medicine training), emergency medicine physicians, family practitioners and pediatricians were interviewed. Most said they were very familiar with the term anaphylaxis and many had even witnessed an anaphylactic reaction.
When asked more specific questions, however, the differences by specialty appeared more noticeable. Breathing problems were identified as a symptom by over 70 percent of all the doctors but coughing was recognized by only 30 percent of family practitioners (compared to 55 percent of internal medicine allergy/immunology specialists). There was a similar gap with approximately 55% of the allergy/immunology experts and pediatricians recognizing skin reactions as a symptom but only 26 percent of family practitioners realizing it.
Similar variations were found in identifying triggers. Nearly 1 in 3 family practitioners and 1 in 4 emergency room doctors didn’t know peanuts could be a trigger while 90+% of allergy/immunology specialists did. Medications also showed differences in education with almost 40 percent of allergy/immunologists and pediatricians realizing readily available medicines like aspirin, Advil and Motrin could cause reactions compared to just 9 percent of emergency medicine doctors and 6 percent of family practitioners.
Lack of doctors’ specific medical knowledge wasn’t the only thing researchers learned. The study also revealed that many physicians don’t understand or appreciate how much severe allergies can affect patients. Only 1 out of 10 family practitioners and 3 out of 10 pediatricians believed “severe allergies” had a major impact on quality of life according to Tringale which is in direct contrast to data AAFA has gathered from patients themselves.
Fortunately now that these gaps in knowledge have been exposed, the hope is education can begin to fill them.
“It’s critical to raise awareness for anaphylaxis not only among the public, but among physicians,” said Tringale. “Physicians across all practices who care for patients at-risk for anaphylaxis should be aware of the professional guidelines for anaphylaxis and properly trained in diagnosing, treating and managing severe allergies.”
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America can help. Tringale encourages physicians and patients to visit the AAFA website for more information about anaphylaxis prevention and treatment as well as free tools such as allergy action plans.
To learn more about the Anaphylaxis in America project which includes information about the physician survey and patient and public surveys, go to the AAFA web page on allergy research.