Fifteen-year-old Jharell Dillard from Lawerenceville, Georgia, died last week when he accidentally ate a cookie with peanuts. He had been shopping with his aunt at a local Wal-mart when he ran out to their car in the parking lot for a snack. When he realized the cookie had traces of peanut he ran to a nearby McDonalds to rinse his mouth out. He also took Benadryl, an over-the-counter antihistamine, but did not have his self-injectable epinephrine or Epipen. Reports indicate his tongue and throat swelled significantly before emergency services arrived. He was rushed to Walton County Medical Center and ultimately flown to Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston where he passed.
Although Jharell and his family donated seven of his organs and have already helped save many lives, we’d like to help other individuals with food allergy avoid such a tragic outcome. Unfortunately, we are not in time for Tyler Davis, a 20-year-old student at Kennesaw State University who we just learned died also last week after ingesting a food he may have been allergic to.
Here are some important facts to remember about food allergy:
- Teenagers and adolescents tend to be noncompliant with medical recommendations and have historically been poor about regularly carrying their life-saving, self-administered epinephrine.
- Studies show that the earlier epinephrine is given for an acute reaction following an accidental ingestion the more likely it will be life-saving. Delayed administration of epinephrine may result in more severe and prolonged episodes of anaphylaxis.
- Benadryl does not treat anaphylaxis!
- Non-deadly food-induced anaphylaxis is the most common type of severe allergic reaction.
- Food allergy needs to be accurately diagnosed, which involves expert interpretation of a patient’s clinical history, skin tests, blood tests, and occasionally, food challenge.
- No available cure is available for food allergy, so avoidance of culprit foods is key.
- Patients at the highest risk of death from a food-induced anaphylactic reaction are teenagers with a history of asthma who already know what they are allergic to.
- Close follow-up with an allergist is helpful.
Luckily, food-induced anaphylaxis resulting in death is relatively rare, claiming approximately 50 deaths per year in the United States. All-cause mortality from anaphylaxis is not accurately known but is likely around 1%.
At the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic we see patients with food allergy—and patients who think they have food allergy–on a daily basis. The diagnosis is not always simple and often requires our doctors to use a good clinical history, skin tests, blood tests, and food challenges to accurately advise patients on what foods to avoid.
If you or your friend or loved one has a food allergy, please make sure they see an allergist to ensure they are best prepared to avoid any culprit foods . . . and to treat themselves in case of an accidental exposure.