Don’t Stand Back, React: The Importance of EpiPens


Food Allergy Research and Education

Elizabeth Reinhardt, Reporter






A teenage purse holds all the essentials: phone, wallet, keys, gum. But now, more and more teenage girls are having to add another item to this list: EpiPens. In the past decade, the number of children with food allergies in America have more than tripled. As of 2014, 1 in every 13 children has a food allergy, according to the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE).

Recently, the topic of food allergies has become more popular with the passage of new legislation in California at the beginning of this year. Under SB 1226, each school in California is now required to have its own epinephrine auto injectors, or EpiPens, in case of an emergency.However, despite the preventive measure taken by our state government, the numbers of  allergic reactions and children with deathly allergies are still on the rise, a fact that is concerning for both parents and teachers alike.

Currently at Presentation, around three to four percent of the student body have allergies, according Susan Mikacich, Vice Principal of Student Services. These allergies can range from food to pollen and from mild to severe. “The only way we would know if a student has any allergies is if parents provide that information on the student emergency card each year or they call and let us know,” says Mikacich.

Although people with food allergies live their lives just like everyone else, there are struggles that people with allergies often encounter. As someone with food allergies, I can personally say that getting special treatment from friends or other parents is almost always awkward, with some people even going to the extreme of making a whole separate meal.

“One harder part of my food allergies is when I spend the night at a friend’s house,” says sophomore Grace Bernal, who has multiple food allergies including gluten and nuts. “I often times have to bring my own snacks to make sure there is something safe for me to eat.”

Not only can it be difficult to find food at a friend’s house, but often times students with allergies cannot purchase food from the school cafeteria as the menu includes items that have various allergens from peanut butter to gluten.

“At school, my food allergies are harder to manage,” confirms Bernal. “Sometimes I feel sad I’ve never been able to try Apollo’s cooking.”

By having more nut and gluten free options, students with allergies do not have to worry so much as to what ingredients their lunch has or if it came into contact with their allergens at any point, but offering these foods at school isn’t as easy as it sounds. Space is often limited, and it also could make the school’s food provider help responsible if they mislabeled a food and caused a student to have an allergic reaction.

Personally, I know how daunting this task can be for a person with serious food allergies. When I do buy from the Pasta Market, I am often the annoying person holding up the line by asking ‘does this have any nuts in it?’ And while some people may get frustrated for having  me making them wait, most people don’t understand that you can never be too careful. For a person with allergies, assumption can be a deadly mistake. One day, even though I thought my food was completely nut free when I purchased it from the cafeteria, it still contained pesto, which is made from pine nuts.

Since my allergy to pine nuts is not as severe as peanuts, my reaction was not as bad. However, the feeling of having your throat closing is terrifying, and instantly you begin to blame yourself with things like, ‘I should have known better’ and ‘I knew I should have asked.’ When you have a reaction, it is both hard and frustrating to know that even though you did everything to avoid that one food, you just couldn’t.

For Bernal, this fear hits close to home. “My 13-year-old cousin died from her food allergies, and my aunt and uncle started a foundation to raise awareness for food allergies in her honor.” Natalie Giorgi, Bernal’s younger cousin, died after she had a allergic reaction to peanuts while on vacation with her family. Today, the Natalie Giorgi Sunshine Foundation is committed to creating a safer environment for children with food allergies.

The foundation is also one of the main supporters of law SB 1226. It is Louis and Joanne’s, Natalie’s parents, hope that with the start of their foundation and the passage of this new law, no one will have to suffer the loss they have.

Life doesn’t stop for you when you have a food allergy, nor do you want it to. for a person with a food allergy, a key to having a normal life is awareness. As a friend of a person with allergies, the most important thing to do is be aware. You don’t have to wear a hazmat suit during lunch or completely eliminate peanut butter from your diet. All you need to do is know what your friend can and cannot have and just be careful.

So what do you do when an allergy attack happens? The number one thing to do is act, and act fast. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can threaten breathing and blood circulation. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can be life threatening, and in some cases, fatal.

In the case of anaphylaxis, time is crucial. People with severe food allergies only have minutes before their airway starts to become obstructed and only as little as thirty minutes until death if left untreated. When this occurs, it is very important that epinephrine is administered.

Epinephrine, or adrenaline, is a medication that can help to reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Most people with allergies carry what are called epinephrine auto injectors, or more commonly known as EpiPens. During most allergic reactions, people with allergies are able to administer the medication themselves. However, if the person is not able to administer the medication themselves for any reason, it is important that you can, because your knowledge has the potential to save a life.

On the side of each EpiPen are instructions on how to use it. First, the safety cap, usually located at the top of the injector, needs to be taken off. If not, the EpiPen will not work. After this, the injector needs to be injected to the outer thigh. It should be injected forcefully. Once this is done the injector needs to be held in place for at least ten seconds so that all of the epinephrine can enter the blood flow.

Depending on how severely allergic the person is, more than one dose of epinephrine may need to be injected. Following this, it is urgent that you call 911 or seek professional medical help. Anaphylaxis can begin up to twenty minutes after an allergen is consumed. The quicker you act, the better.