by Holly Wilkinson
Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Symptoms can include a swollen tongue, difficulty swallowing or breathing, or a dramatic fall in blood pressure known as anaphylactic shock.
Anaphylaxis. The word is a bit of a mouthful (pronounced ana-fi ll-ax-is) but for many children it is one of the most important they learn. Holly Wilkinson, Communications Manager for the Anaphylaxis Campaign explains, “this severe type of allergic reaction can start within a few seconds after eating a particular food, being stung by an insect or having a reaction to medicine like penicillin and can be fatal.”
Two-thirds of all schools have at least one child who has experienced anaphylaxis or who has a prescription for life-saving medication, called an adrenaline auto-injector or AAI, sometimes referred to colloquially as a ‘pen’.
Now, after two years of extensive campaigning by the Anaphylaxis Campaign and other organisations, legislation is in place to allow all schools in the UK to keep a potentially lifesaving dose of adrenaline spare, without a prescription, for emergency use on children who are at risk of anaphylaxis but whose own device is not available or not working.
We polled parents of school aged children, healthcare professionals and teachers and found that the overwhelming proportion supported our campaign to have ‘spare pens in schools’, including over 96% of teachers.
Sadly, we know of at least two deaths of children in school in 2017 due to severe allergic reactions, which is a powerful reminder that anaphylaxis can have devastating consequences and it is so important to have training and support for all school staff . We hope that the change in the law will enhance the safety of severely allergic children in schools across the UK and provide reassurance for parents, carers and school staff.
We have a free online anaphylaxis training course AllergyWise for Schools and paid for ‘train the trainer’ course called AllergyWise for Healthcare Professionals. Find out more at www.allergywise.org.uk.
We also provide support beyond the classroom. Our free West Sussex Support Group is open to adults as well as families living with severe allergies and meets in Worthing.
Catherine Shorney’s son Christian, aged 9, has allergies to nuts, sesame, raw egg and legumes. She says, “as a parent of a child with severe allergies, it really means a lot to host a Support Group for the Anaphylaxis Campaign. I really enjoy our meetings which bring together other people living with severe allergies in the local area to swap tips and talk together in a relaxed, supportive setting.” Visit www.anaphylaxis.org.uk for more information.
The Anaphylaxis Campaign is the only UK wide charity focused on supporting people at risk of severe allergies; we provide information and support for families through our free helpline and support groups, and campaign and fundraise to achieve our ultimate aim to create a safe environment for all people with allergies.