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Parents in study struggle to use EpiPen with their children

Many parents would benefit from extra training on how and when to use the emergency epinephrine delivery device, researchers say.

By
Stephen Feller
EpiPens are designed for ease of use to treat a severe allergic reaction, but researchers found many parents in a recent study were unsure of how to use them. Photo by Rob Byron/Shutterstock
EpiPens are designed for ease of use to treat a severe allergic reaction, but researchers found many parents in a recent study were unsure of how to use them. Photo by Rob Byron/Shutterstock

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, May 16 (UPI) -- For people prone to severe allergic reaction, epinephrine auto injectors, commonly sold as EpiPens, are an essential method of emergency life-saving treatment for anaphylaxis because they can be easily used by anyone.

In a small study in British Columbia, researchers sought to test how well parents understood using them to halt reactions in their children and found many were unsure how to use them.

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In the study, which recorded supervised "oral food challenges" for children who may have outgrown a food allergy, with parents on hand to intervene as they normally would, 18 children had a reaction that required epinephrine. Researchers say many of their parents were unsure how to use an EpiPen during a test of their children's allergic reactions -- a seemingly small number that nonetheless raised concern among researchers as to why parents don't know how to use it.

The lack of knowledge, however, informed researchers who did not understand why parents would bring their children to the hospital mid-anaphylaxis despite having an EpiPen available to them.

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"This is very troubling, because providing epinephrine early and properly could mean avoiding a reaction from becoming more severe, or even saving a child's life," Dr. Edmond Chan, head of the division of allergy and immunology at the University of British Columbia's department of pediatrics, said in a press release

For the study, published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthama and Immunology, the researchers recruited parents and children, deliberately exposing them to food they are allergic to -- a standard method of testing for ongoing allergies -- and observing their parents to see how long it took to notice any reaction that happened, and how they reacted to it.

Researchers found in the 18 cases that required intervention, many parents did not recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis and did not know how to use the EpiPen. This included holding it backward, putting their thumb over the needle or not depressing the injector long enough to deliver the full dose of epinephrine.

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While coaching helped improve the parents' response time and use of the emergency device, they are made to be user-friendly but clearly parents need more help when learning how to save their child's life.

"The training that parents receive is not sufficient," Chan said. "Some physicians and pharmacists run through it very quickly, using a practice device that doesn't have a needle. And even if the explanation is good, it's probably difficult for stressed parents, in the throes of an anaphylactic crisis, to remember what they were told weeks, months or even years before."

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