Modern Family’s Emmy winning actress takes on the most important role of her life

Actress Julie Bowen, recently awarded her second Emmy for her role in the hit TV comedy “Modern Family,” started a more serious role last week: raising awareness about life-threatening childhood allergies and anaphylaxis.

The two-time best supporting actress in a comedy series and mother of three knows firsthand about potentially fatal allergic reactions. Her oldest son, Oliver, was 2 years old when he developed anaphylaxis as a result of a double-whammy exposure to a bee sting coupled with a bit of peanut butter.

“We had no reason to suspect we might have a problem. He had had peanuts before. And he had always been fine,” explained Bowen. “But then one day we found out that, no, he’s not.”

Almost immediately, Oliver’s face swelled dramatically. Other symptoms of anaphylaxis include chest pain; hives; breathing difficulties; tightening of the throat; lip and tongue swelling; nausea; dizziness and fainting.

Bowen’s husband, who was at home with the toddler, was terrified. “He knew it was bad.” Oliver was rushed to the hospital and immediately given an injection of epinephrine – the drug used for the emergency treatment of anaphylactic reactions that can follow exposure to allergens such as peanuts, walnuts, shellfish, bee stings, medications and/or latex.

Although any child can develop an allergy, or abnormal immune response, they are more likely to occur in people whose family members also have allergies.

Bowen now is spearheading the nationwide awareness campaign with the help of Mylan Specialty L.P., the pharmaceutical company that makes EpiPen®.

The goal is education,” said Bowen. “We, as parents, can’t always be with our children all day, every day. So we want the people around them to be educated.”

Thankfully, Oliver made a full and quick recovery. “Once he had the proper medicine, it was a very quick process,” she noted. “But today we always carry epinephrine with us wherever we go.”

Food allergies are the leading cause of anaphylaxis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that food allergies in children have increased 18% since 1997. More than 9,000 children are hospitalized because of severe food allergies each year.

Many allergic reactions occur when children accidentally consume foods they’re allergic to at school. According to the CDC as many as one-quarter of anaphylaxis happens in students with no history of food allergies.

Parents and school employees shouldn’t dismiss a child’s complaints, Bowen says, “We want parents and teachers to know the signs, so that if you see them coughing, scratching at their throat some, or that they’ve got some rash, that you go ahead and look into it further.”

If you suspect your child may have an allergic reaction to anything, get it checked out. Call 911 and get medical attention immediately because there’s no way to guarantee that your child is never going to have an anaphylactic reaction.

The odds are not insignificant. “One to two children in each classroom could potentially be at risk for a serious food allergy,” says Dr. Carla Davis, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the section of immunology, allergy and rheumatology at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.  Of those, 30-40% would be at risk for life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Epinephrine is the first-line treatment, and caregivers must act quickly in order to treat effectively.  How quickly? Ideally, within minutes of the child developing a reaction.

For more information on anaphylaxis, visit the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.

Back-to-school lesson on food allergies

According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), nearly six million children across the United States suffer from food allergies. Of those, more than 300,000 were admitted to hospital in the last year alone. To help ensure your food allergic child doesn’t suffer the same fate, SRxA’s Word on Health offers some simple Back-to-School tips for parents. The key to preventing allergic reactions and anaphylaxisis preparation:

  • Contact the school well in advance of the first day of class and let your child’s teachers, coaches and school nurse know about their allergies
  • Provider the school with a copy of your Child’s Anaphylaxis Action Plan
  • Find out about field trips, parties, and special events such as Halloween or Valentine’s to ensure that allergens don’t sneak in along with other treats
  • Meet with key personnel that will take care of your child if a reaction occurs
  • Find out what plans are already in place for children with food allergies and what steps will be taken if an allergic reaction occurs at school
  • Ensure that any medication, such as an EpiPen, on that plan has a physician’s order to cover it at school and that medication is readily available to personnel if it needs to be administered
  • Teach your child what foods are off limits
  • Teach your child to recognize symptoms and let an adult know immediately if they think they might be suffering an allergic reaction.
  • Make sure your child understands not to trade food with others or eat anything with unknown ingredients.

Schools and teachers can also prepare themselves for the food allergic children in their class.  FAAN produces some excellent resources as part of its Safe@School campaign. For example, they offer expert in-service training to school districts to prepare staff to confidently CARE™ for students with food allergies by teaching them how to: In addition, FAAN provides training presentations, suitable for elementary and secondary schools as well as colleges and universities. So whether you’re a child, parent or teacher dealing with food allergies, be prepared, be safe and CARE this back-to-school season.

Food Allergy Organizations Unite to Combat the Crisis and Find a Cure

In the United States, food allergies send a person to the emergency room every three minutes and account for over a million emergency department visits each year. For about 140,000 patients each year, their food allergies result in anaphylaxis – a serious life-threatening consequence. Of these, up to 1,000, many of them children, will die.

Which is why we were pleased to learn that the nation’s two leading food allergy organizations are planning to merge.

Rather than competing for funding, as they have in the past, the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI) and the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) will unite. In doing so they hope to secure the private and public support needed to advance a cure for food allergies, and provide critical resources for food-allergic individuals and families.

Recent research shows that food allergies are a significant and growing public health issue affecting 1 out of every 13 children – roughly two in every classroom. With nearly 40% of these children already having experienced a severe or life-threatening food-allergic reaction, the need for a cure is urgent.

The merger will combine FAAN’s expertise as a trusted source of information, programs, and resources related to food allergy and anaphylaxis with FAI’s leadership as the world’s largest private source of funding for food allergy research.

FAI and FAAN have collaborated for nearly 15 years on initiatives to increase understanding of the severity of food allergies and to support food-allergic families,” said Todd Slotkin, chairman of FAI. “Bringing together the considerable expertise and resources that both organizations offer will elevate both our ongoing private commitment to find a cure for food allergies and our work on behalf of the food-allergic community.”

Every day we work with thousands of families across the United States who are dealing with the serious physical, social, and emotional impacts of food allergies,” said Janet Atwater, chair of FAAN. “The unification of FAAN and FAI allows us to move forward together as an even stronger champion for these families and the driving force advancing research to find a cure.”

SRxA’s Word on Health applauds this initiative and looks forward to seeing the benefits of this collaboration. In the meantime we think the ‘more can be achieved by collaborating than competing‘ message could be an important one for congress.

Watching What You Eat

In case you hadn’t noticed, the world did not come to an end on May 21st.  Most of us, so we’re told, were not eaten by zombies. However, we did learn of one 6-year-old boy who nearly lost his life because of something someone else ate.

No, we’re not making this up.  In fact, this story comes from the highly respected New England Journal of Medicine, no less. The article reveals that the boy suffered a severe allergic reaction following a blood transfusion from people that had consumed peanuts in the hours before donating their blood.

Dr. Johannes Jacobs, one of the study coauthors, described how three of the five blood donors in this case reported eating peanuts on the evening before they gave blood. It had been a Sunday evening, the night of a big soccer game, and the three donors had been snacking on peanuts as they watched TV.

The boy who received the nut-tainted blood was being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  During a platelet transfusion he experienced an anaphylactic reaction in which he developed a rash, angioedema, hypotension, and difficult breathing.  Fortunately doctors recognized his symptoms and treated him with epinephrine (adrenaline) and he recovered within 30 minutes.

The patient’s mother stated that her son had had a similar reaction after eating peanuts at the age of 1 year. Since that time, peanuts had been excluded from his diet.

The authors of the report say the boy experienced an allergic reaction because peanuts contain a protein known as Ara h2, which is extremely resistant to digestion and can stay in the blood for up to 24 hours. While such a scenario had been presented as a theoretical possibility in the past, this is the first clinical report of this phenomenon.

Speaking exclusively to Word on Health, Dan A. Waxman MD, President of America’s Blood Centers said “Donor screening measures are quite effective in terms of detecting infectious agents and donor questionnaires tell us if donors need to be excluded because of medicines they are taking such as aspirin or antibiotics.  But, when it comes to what they’ve eaten, we really don’t ask”.

According to the latest Food Allergy Guidelines,  peanut allergies are known to affect about somewhere between 0.6 and 6% of the population.

While the researchers involved with this study are not recommending that blood donors avoid all foods known to be associated with systemic allergic reactions, they caution that more research must be done to determine the level of risk.

In the meantime, SRxA’s Word on Health suggests it may be time to adapt the phrase “Think before you drink, before you drive” to “Think what you ate before you donate.”