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Vincent Iannelli, M.D.

Peanut Allergy Tragedy at Summer Camp

By August 1, 2013

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The Huffington Post recently published a article, "Getting Past the Hype About Peanut Allergies," that left me a little baffled. The doctor who wrote the article seemed to be minimizing the risk of peanut allergies, stating that "while estimates range from about 150 to 200 deaths a year from peanut allergies, reporting is spotty and not required, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially documents only 13 deaths (including six adults) between 1996 and 2006."

The death of Natalie Giorgi, a teenager who was attending Camp Sacramento in California this week should remind everyone just how dangerous peanut allergies can be.

The 13-year-old was at summer camp with her parents and eat a Rice Krispies-type snack that was covered with icing. It has been reported that she spit it out because "she knew something wasn't right" and  realized that it contained peanuts, to which she is allergic. About 20 minutes later, she began vomiting, had trouble breathing, and went into cardiac arrest. This is despite the fact that she was given three doses of epinephrine.

Although we are often left searching for answers after these types of tragedies, it is perhaps more helpful to look for lessons that could help other children. One lesson is that food allergies can be deadly, even with proper treatment, and we should dismiss people who try to push the idea that there is a hype surrounding food allergy dangers.

Perhaps the biggest lesson that parents and caregivers of a child with a food allergy can learn though, is that they shouldn't be afraid to use their epinephrine shots. All too often, it seems like parents don't use an epi-pen when their child is having severe food allergy symptoms because they aren't sure if the symptoms are severe enough. Even kids in the emergency room are sometimes just given steroids, antihistamines, and breathing treatments instead of epinephrine. It seems like there is often a fear of using epinephrine, the treatment for severe allergy symptoms, among many parents and even among some doctors.

Instead of hesitating, for  certain extremely reactive foods, the Food Allergy Action Plan from the Food Allergy Research & Education, Inc. provides options to:

  • give epinephrine immediately for ANY symptoms if the allergen was likely eaten
  • give epinephrine immediately if the allergen was definitely eaten, even if no symptoms are noted

Talk to your doctor if this should be an option for your child, keeping in mind that children who also have asthma are thought to be at higher risk for a severe reactions.

And make sure you have a written Food Allergy Action Plan and you understand how to follow it. Doctors often fill these out for kids in school, but you should have one at home too. A written Food Allergy Action Plan will help you know exactly what to do if your child starts having allergy symptoms or just eats something to which they are allergic.

Until there is a cure, helping kids with food allergies follow strict avoidance of the foods to which they are allergic is the important thing that those around him can do. It definitely doesn't help if people are pushing the idea that the dangers of food allergies are being over-hyped and  when they fight plans for allergen-free zones, etc.

FARE also provides resources to help parents manage food allergies at home, school, camp, college, dining out, and traveling.

Never forget that food allergies are deadly.

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November 3, 2013 at 12:00 am
(1) Stacie says:

It’s truly dangerous to have articles that suggest anaphylaxis is any sort of a hype. I appreciate your blog and voice to let patients know food allergies are real and can and often are fatal, but with the silver lining of the fact that they don’t have to be if epinephrine is utilized in time! Please continue to be a voice for those who need guidance! Thank you for all you do!!

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