EpiPens in schools

On November 13, CTV reported that some Winnipeg parents are wanting the Winnipeg School Division to change its policy on allowing emergency EpiPens at schools.

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A cringe worthy snap of me at my Kindergarten graduation (you’re welcome)- note the black fanny pack around my waste, carrying my EpiPen

The parents are proposing schools have emergency cabinets with two EpiPens alarmed and locked inside. The EpiPens would be available for any student in need during an emergency, and administered by a trained staff member.

It’s an interesting idea. My mother always made sure I had my own EpiPen

on me at all times. In fact, I literally had it attached to my hip! While some parents let their kid keep their EpiPen in their backpack, I would carry mine in a fanny pack around my waist.

In an emergency, it’s important to have the EpiPen close. I understand the idea of wanting to have extras in the area at all times, but it’s important to make sure you don’t have to rely on them.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this story, and will report back on the Winnipeg School Division’s decision or any other information that’s released.

Wondering what an EpiPen is? Check out my previous post where I go over the different types of auto-injectors.

An Auto-Injector Cheat Sheet

Last week, I talked about epinephrine and how it works in the body. So naturally, this week I thought I would go over the different types of autoinjectors.

Depending on the age and weight of the person, there are a few different options. The decision also comes down to preference and familiarity. Each type of auto-injectors operates a little differently, so it’s best to consult with a doctor to decide which one is best for you. Here are the top 5 choices:

1. EpiPen 
EpiPen Auto-Injectors
Now, I often say EpiPen interchangeably with the auto-injector. My family chose the EpiPen for me based on my doctor’s recommendation and availability. There wasn’t a lot of options 20ish years ago.

There’s two types of EpiPens: EpiPen and EpiPen Jr. As you probably have guessed, EpiPen is for adults, and EpiPen Jr. is for children. The difference between the two is the dosage amount.

EpiPens are narrow and longer than some models. They are easy to stick into a bag, purse, backpack or any carrier.

2. Impax Epinephrine Auto-Injector 

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Impax offers an auto-injector that works very similar to the EpiPen. It’s long but narrower and is also enclosed in a protective case.  The process of distributing the epinephrine is almost identical to the EpiPen. It’s also available in two dosages.

3. AUVI-Q

AUVI-Q

The AUVI-Q is a little different than the other two options. Its smaller and more compact, and is designed to help anyone be able to know how to use it.  It has two unique features, voice instructions and an automatic needle retraction system.

What does this mean? When you remove the cap off of the injector, it starts to play instructions on what exactly to do step by step. Once you’ve distributed the epinephrine, the needle gets sucked back into the injector instead of sticking out the end. It also has two doses options.

 

The Kids with Food Allergies website has a great comparison chart with more information on the auto-injector options.

What is Epinephrine?

When someone with an anaphylactic allergy is having a reaction, your first responsibility is to use their EpiPen. EpiPens slow down the reaction to allow for enough time to reach the hospital. But how exactly does that happen?


Let’s review: What is an anaphylactic reaction?
An anaphylactic reaction occurs when the body of a person with allergies goes into shock. The reaction starts when the body thinks a harmless substance is actually a threatening invader. Say a knife that was used to spread jam onto a piece of toast, was previously used to spread peanut butter somewhere else. The oil from the peanut butter has turned the jam into poison. As someone bites into the toast, the cardiovascular system is immediately affected. It thinks the peanut butter, a food that provides protein and potassium, is actually an invader. The heart will start to beat at a speed faster than Usain Bolt. The muscles will start to contract, and one’s ability to breath will immediately decline. The face will swell and turn the colour of a ripe blueberry and the throat will close. The only chance of surviving is an EpiPen.

 

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Never seen a reaction before? Just picture Will Smith’s character in Hitch…


So…What’s an EpiPen?
An EpiPen is a popular brand of an auto-injector and is used in case of an anaphylactic shock. A small needle injects a dose of hormone, called epinephrine, into the body and temporarily deflates the reaction to the allergen. An EpiPen is administered into the side of the leg at the spot that is exactly a thumb to pointer finger away from the hip and a thumb and pointer finger away from the knee. Once the hormone is injected into the skin, the blood vessels tighten throughout the body. This increases blood flow. As a result, some of the swelling in the body will go down. It also relaxes the muscles. The airways in the lungs will open enough to allow breathing again. Finally, it makes the heart beat faster to prevent cardiac arrest.

 

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What is epinephrine?
Epinephrine is created in small amounts in the body. It is more commonly known as adrenaline. Your body releases it when you experience strong emotions like fear or anger. Have you ever heard of the fight or flight response? This natural reaction occurs when the medulla of the adrenal gland, which is the middle of the gland, releases epinephrine. The medulla releases epinephrine to prepare or reacts to the perceived threat. It increases your heart rate, muscle strength and blood pressure.

Epinephrine is the only drug that acts on so many body systems at once. When an anaphylactic reaction occurs, an EpiPen, or any auto-injector, provides the temporary relief needed to get someone to the hospital.


Why is this important?
In 2009, the price of two EpiPens in the United States was approximately $100. Today, the same will cost consumers around $600. This is an increase of more than 500 percent since 2007. This dramatic increase has left many people struggling to purchase the life-saving device.

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Hope this helps you understand a bit more about an anaphylactic reaction, and how an EpiPen can save a life.

You need to start reading, so here are the best sources

One of the best ways to stay informed is to read. From new advances in research and medical studies to current safety information, and more, there’s always something going on in the allergy community.

There are a number of great resources to stay informed (aside from this blog of course). Here are my top sources:

Allergic Living Magazine 
allergic-living-logo.jpgAllergic Living Magazine is one of (if not the) best allergy publication. It’s a source for current information on allergy safe products, new recipes, stories and from people who have allergies. The information is well written and carefully explained so that all medical jargon is actually easy to understand.
Food Allergy Canada
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Food Allergy Canada educates, supports and advocates for the needs of people living with food allergies and the risk of anaphylaxis.

I like this site for its quick fact information. You can select a food on their homepage (peanuts, nuts, eggs, wheat, etc.) and it provides a variety of information from common sources of the allergen, other names it could be listed as on an ingredients list, and tips to avoid a reaction.


Kids with Food Allergies

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Kids with Food Allergies is a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). It’s a great resource for parents with young children who have an allergy(s).
They have a whole section on the website dedicated to information on being recently diagnosed. It’s full of facts, common questions & answers, quick how-to guides on what to do during an attack, and more.

 

These websites also offer newsletter sign-ups and subscriptions so you can receive information straight to your email. It’s a great feature for parents to stay up to date since the information will come straight to you, saving you from having to go and search for it.

Top tips to help you prevent an attack

I read an article the other day about the timeline of ‘the peanut allergy’. It said that in the 1980s people didn’t talk about it. They were considered rare and the media had no interest in them. In the 1990s, medical journals finally started the conversation when they realized how serious they were, and by the mid-1990s, newspapers began publishing articles with headlines such as, “Nut Allergy Girl’s Terror; Girl Almost Dies from Peanut Allergy.”

This seems strange to me- living a life where peanut allergies aren’t talked about. For all I know, that article could have been about me. In the mid-90s, I had my first anaphylactic attack.

In 2013, medical journals began calling peanut allergies an ‘epidemic’. More and more people became aware of what it was, media coverage increased, and people started diagnosing themselves. Although it’s not clear if more people have an allergy now then before, the conversation had changed.

At the same time, I had already been living and dealing with my allergy for nearly 20 years. That’s no small feat, 20 years and only one attack. For that, I have my mother to thank. She instilled in my brain 4 easy steps to preventing an attack:

  1. Read the label. Read the label. Read the label. Even if you think you know the answer, it doesn’t matter, read the label. In Canada, it’s mandatory for all products to have an ingredients list. More importantly, it’s mandatory to have an allergy warning on it. If there are peanuts or tree nuts in a product it will say on the ingredients list in bold letters- you can’t miss it.
  2. If you don’t know, ask. If they don’t know, then don’t risk it. Sure it would be nice to have a taste of the delicious looking dessert, but if you aren’t certain then it’s just not worth it.
  3. As a follow-up to number two, bring your own food. Growing up, my mom would always bring a dessert to parties and family gatherings. Peanuts and nuts are most commonly used in baking. As someone with a major sweet tooth, I’m always looking for a little something after my meal, and what’s a party without cake? So my mom would make something herself to ensure there would be at least one thing I could eat.
  4. Keep your hands away from your mouth, and wash them frequently. Now I’ll admit, this is the tip I had the hardest time with. I’d forget and find myself resting my head in my hands during class or something. A peanut allergy isn’t about the actual nut, it’s the oil from the nut that causes the reaction (fun fact for you there). Since you can’t see oil residue easily, you never quite know if someone who touched the doorknob before you grabbed it while eating a peanut granola bar. So throw some hand sanitizer in your bag.

 

Welcome to Blue to the Sky: The Basics

Let’s start off with the fundamentals. There are a few terms, and facts you should know before continuing reading anything else on this site.

What does it mean to have an allergy?
It means the body reacts to something, which sends it into an abnormal reaction.

What does anaphylaxis mean?
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as, “An acute allergic reaction to an antigen (e.g. a bee sting) to which the body has become hypersensitive.

What does this actually mean?
In human terms, it means the body is very sensitive to a particular substance. When the body is exposed to that substance it goes into anaphylactic shock… aka the body freaks out (tongue swells, airways close, etc.).

Are you a doctor?
No. I am a twenty-something-year-old who’s had an anaphylactic peanut allergy since I was born. The content I provide on this blog is based on my personal experiences, the advice given to me by my doctor, and studies I have found for the purpose of providing you with more background information. Please take everything into consideration based on your situation.

What can I expect on Blue to the Sky?

This site is a place to learn about what it’s like having an allergy through my personal experiences, medical research, and new advances in the market. It’s a place to find some of the best allergy-free recipes, local restaurants, and products on the shelves. It’s a place to find tips and tricks on dealing with diet restrictions. Most importantly, I hope it becomes a community for anyone who wants to know more about allergies or is looking for a place to belong.