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Parents warn that food allergies can be life-threatening

Recently a 13-year-old teen died from a severe peanut allergy despite epinephrine injections. Her parents issued a statement reminding people to stay vigilant about food allergies. Here's what parents and their children with food allergies need to keep in mind.

Recently, a 13-year-old girl in Sacramento, CA, died of anaphylaxis after ingesting a rice krispies treat coated with peanut butter, to which she was extremely allergic. In this tragic case, even though everything possible was done to save her, including the swift administration of epinephrine (Epi-pen), she went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead later at the hospital. Her heartbroken parents, one of whom is a physician, issued a statement imploring people to stay ever vigilant and never let their guard down when it comes to known food allergies.

Although such deadly consequences are rare, this sad story exemplifies that they do indeed occur. The victim was at a church camp, her mother was present. Food was being shared in a festive and communal atmosphere. It was dusk and visibility was low. The girl picked up a treat without realizing that it had been coated with chocolate and peanut butter. As soon as she took a bite, she recognized the taste and spit it out. But just that minimal exposure was enough to trigger anaphylaxis.

The Epi-pen (one of several available epinephrine autoinjectors on the market) is a very effective rescue medication, especially if used right away. Unfortunately in this case, it did not work. The reasons for this are purely speculative. The point is to never be cavalier about food allergies, particularly with nut and shellfish allergies. ALWAYS read labels. ALWAYS ask questions at restaurants. NEVER eat home-prepared foods unless you are certain they contain none of the potentially lethal substance. The sad truth is that the best medicine that we have failed to help this girl, the only effective "treatment" would have been avoidance.

Another point to take away from this story is the victim's age. Many children's nut allergies will begin to wane in adolescence and it's also a time when parents have less control over what their children eat. I cannot stress enough the importance of kids' taking responsibility themselves for everything that passes their lips. Stop, look, ask and when in doubt, avoid.

One last point, the victim was at a picnic. Social gatherings with food such as picnics, pot-lucks and church suppers where there is talking, laughter and distractions, are prime surroundings for an error in judgment. I would recommend keeping one's guard up especially in these surroundings. Once again: Stop, look, ask and when in doubt, avoid.

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