Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Death From Eating Foods At School

Category: Asthma and Allergy


Dr. Hugh Sampson of the John Hopkin's Medical Center in Baltimore reported on five fatal and seven nearly fatal anaphylactic reactions in children eating allergic foods at school. In nine of the twelve no adrenalin was available to reverse this potentially deadly event. The children and their parents were unaware of the potentially life threatening risk connected with their child's specific food allergy. Every one of these children had severe allergies and asthma and were taking several medicines. All had experienced previous serious reactions to foods including peanuts, beans, eggs, milk and walnuts. Only one child had a life threatening episode prior to the one occurring at school. In every case the child ingested the food not realizing any danger present and in ten of the twelve cases they were away from their home. Dr. Sampson's studies show that the good anaphylactic reactions occurred usually within ten minutes and almost always within thirty minutes of ingestion. The symptoms progressed rapidly to a respiratory failure and in the five fatal cases to complete respiratory arrest. In three of the four non-fatal cases, however, severe respiratory symptoms occurred in a delayed fashion after 55 to 125 minutes.

All the findings in Dr. Sampson's study are very alarming and should alert us to several things. First, children who are known to have food allergies should have those food allergies written out in a form by their doctor and kept on file at the school. Food served at the school should be listed so that the parents can preview the foods and double check to make sure their child does not eat an offending food. Just last year my daughter who is very allergic to seafood ate what she thought was chicken but turned out to be fish nuggets. She experienced a delayed anaphylaxis reaction with a drop in blood pressure, breathlessness and pallor. Fortunately her principal had the good sense to bring her right to our office where an adrenalin shot reversed her condition and within a few hours she was ok. I quickly wrote a letter stating her specific food allergies and risks to be kept on file at her school as well as providing them with an adrenalin kit. I also gave them permission to use this adrenalin on any other patient who experienced a similar problem.

I believe we would be wise to keep adrenalin and some emergency training plan at all schools, Then if any child had a severe food allergy reaction or other severe allergy reaction such as multiple stings from ants, bees, wasps, or anything else they could be treated on the way to receiving the nearest emergency medical attention. Sometimes the first five or ten minutes could be critical and may very well save the child's life.

Finally food allergies are constantly changing and you could be very allergic to a food now and actually tolerate it in years to come. In cases of severe food allergy reactions however never try challenging yourself or your child with the offending food unless you are in touch with your doctor first.