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Daily Dose

Epi Pen Controversy

1;30 to read

I have more than several patients who have had serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to a variety of things…including insects (fire ants, bees) as well as foods (peanuts, tree nuts, fruits, shellfish). All of these children need to have epinephrine auto injectable pens (EpiPen) on hand in case of “accidental” exposure to the allergen and a subsequent life threatening allergic reaction.  These medical devices are seldom used ( thank goodness), but need to be replaced every 12-24 months and should always be readily available in case of an emergency.

For the longest time it was not a “big” issue (cost wise) to write prescriptions for these allergic children and to make sure that they had several EpiPens on hand. This included having them available at home, school, in the mothers purse or in the car or in the gym bag…many people also wanted “extras” to have at the grand- parents house or at the lake house…etc.  So….I would write a script for the EpiPen 2 pack and the family might get 4-5 sets to disperse to the appropriate people. Prior to 2009 the cost was less than $100/two pack. 

It was several years ago that a few families started talking to me about the expense of these devices and also how quickly they seemed to expire…in fact we started asking the pharmacist to look at the expiration dates and to try and dispense the ones that had the longest expiration, in hopes of saving some expense.  At that time there were also two companies that were making the epinephrine devices.  

Then in the last year parents started calling me complaining that the EpiPens were becoming cost prohibitive and “did they really need to keep filling them?”….especially seeing that they had never needed to use one?  Of course I replied that “by the grace of God” and their vigilance they had not needed one, but YES, they indeed needed to continue to have them on hand.  In many cases families reduced the number that they bought and tried to make sure that they handed them off if their child left home….terribly hard I would think to keep up with.

This issue came into view most recently as parents across the country started complaining to not only their physicians, but to the pharmacy, their insurers and the drug maker Mylan Pharmaceuticals….why in the world had the price jumped to over $600? In retrospect, the price had been raised 15% twice a year over the past 2 years!  ( It was also pointed out that this was a 6 fold price increase in the past decade).

I do know that epinephrine has been around for a long time and the drug itself is not that expensive, and is used everyday in hospitals around the country….but the EpiPen auto injector which allows “anyone” to inject the medicine into a muscle without any measuring etc. has become cost prohibitive for many families, even some of those with insurance. It seems that Mylan Pharma  is setting prices “based on whatever the market may bear” and not on the fact that the drug is new or expensive to produce…

This is one of the times that all parents with children who need to carry an EpiPen need to contact their representatives in Congress, as well as their insurers to see if the public can be influential in trying to remedy this situation.  The public will have to let their concerns and voices be heard…

Just as I am writing this, Mylan has announced an “instant savings card” for those people who are paying out of pocket and help for those who do not have the means to buy the EpiPen….but this does not correct the problem as a whole. While the discount may be helpful for some, but not all, it is not the answer to the ever growing problem of exorbitant drug costs in this country. I have several families who are going to try and buy the EpiPen while on trips to Mexico and Canada. I have no idea of the costs there…but worth a try.  

Your Baby

Pets May Protect Infants Against Allergies

1.30 to read

Fluffy or Fido may protect your baby from developing allergies later in life. Many owners will tell you that their pet is like a family member. A new study suggests that those four-legged family members may reduce a child’s risk of developing allergies.

For years allergists have warned parents that some pets may actually cause allergies, but a new study published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy suggests that early exposure to pets, during an infant’s first year of life, appears to provide an actual defense against allergies later in life. Lead study author Ganesa Wegienka, Ph.D., of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit noted, “Exposing children to cats and dogs in the home is not going to increase the risk of sensitization to these animals. It might even decrease the risk.” Interesting revelations were found in the study such as; 18 year old males, who lived with a dog in the house when they were an infant, reduced their risks of developing allergies by half,  but not so with girls. Cats, on the other hand, seem to affect both sexes. Infant boys and girls who lived in a home with cats reduced their risks of developing allergies –by about 48%- by the age of 18 years. Another finding of the analysis showed that both males and females delivered by C-section had a 67 percent less likelihood of developing a dog allergy when a dog was present in the home during their first year of life. Wegienka said that this could be due to the fact that babies born by cesarean section are not exposed to the diverse microflora that babies born vaginally are. The long held idea that pets may cause allergies led Wegienka, and her colleagues, to study what effects childhood exposure to cats and dogs had on the risk of developing allergies to them. For their study, the researchers analyzed blood samples of more than 500 children taken during the Detroit Childhood Allergy Study from 1987 to 1989 that followed participants from birth. The focus of the analysis was to look for the presence of an antibody known as animal-specific IgE, which would indicate that a child was sensitized to that animal. In addition, follow-up among children in the study at age 18 included additional blood samples and pet histories. The histories indicated that 184 participants had a dog, and 110 of the children had a cat, during their first year of life. Pet allergy is an allergic reaction to proteins found in an animal's skin cells, saliva or urine. Signs of pet allergy include those common to hay fever, such as sneezing and runny nose. Some people may also experience signs of asthma, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing. Severe allergic reactions can be deadly. Pet allergy is often triggered by exposure to the dead flakes, or dander, that a pet sheds. Any animal with fur can be a source of pet allergy, but the most common pets are cats, dogs, rodents and horses. Wegienka pointed out that the study does not definitively indicate that having a family pet will prevent infants from developing allergies later in life, as it only found an association between a reduced risk for allergies and exposure to cats and dogs at an early age. Wegienka cautioned, “We don't want to say that everyone should go out and get a dog or cat to prevent allergies.” She then added, “More research is needed, though we think this is a worthwhile avenue to pursue. How does having a dog or a cat change the home environment? And, how does that affect allergy risk?" If you have an infant and a pet sharing the house, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your little one to make sure that he or she is able to tolerate pet dander.

Daily Dose

Food Allergies

1:30 to read

With the holidays approaching and lots of family gatherings revolving around food and eating together, it seems a good time to discuss the differences between food allergies and food intolerance, as they are not the same thing.

 

When one member of your family tells you that their child is “allergic to nuts” and another tells you that their child cannot “drink milk”, they may not be talking about the same phenomena at all. There is a big difference and it important to understand why.

 

Food allergies are immune mediated adverse reactions to foods.  While any food protein can trigger an allergic response, only a few foods account for most allergic reactions.  Eggs, milk, peanuts, soy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts and wheat are the most common causes of true immune mediated food allergies.

 

The most common symptoms of an acute allergic (anaphylactic) reaction to a food include such things as:  itching around the mouth and lips, swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, flushing, and or hives.  A person may present with only a few of these symptoms after being exposed to a food, or may have multiple symptoms that occur.  The most common symptom of an allergic reaction is with the acute onset of hives (urticaria) and itching, which may then be followed by other symptoms of respiratory or gastrointestinal tract.

 

An allergic reaction to food is a medical emergency and may cause serious of even life threatening reactions and requires immediate treatment. If this is a new onset food allergy and a person is thought to be symptomatic call 911 as a serious reaction can happen quite quickly.  If there is a known food allergy and someone is inadvertently exposed to the food, they should carry injectable epinephrine and use it immediately along with an antihistamine….then call their doctor or go to the emergency room for follow up. Remember,  anaphylaxis is life threatening! 

 

Food intolerance is a different story. It is NOT an immune mediated event and while you may feel miserable after ingesting certain food, such as milk, it is not life threatening. In most cases of food intolerance a person learns that they may ingest small amounts of the offending food without any problems (maybe a small scoop of ice cream), but cannot tolerate drinking an entire glass of milk without experiencing GI complaints, often with abdominal cramping and diarrhea. Lactose seems to be one of the most common offending agents, while others seem to be sensitive to gluten or even food additives like sulfites and dyes.  The best treatment for this is to stay away from foods that cause you to have symptoms, or to only ingest small amounts.

 

So, if you have a relative with true food allergies make sure to check with them before planning a meal and avoid cross contamination of foods during preparation. For those with intolerances….they may just choose to skip the offending food and double up on others!

 

Happy Holidays!!

Daily Dose

Penicillin Allergy

1:30 to read

Has your child ever been labelled “penicillin allergic”?  Interestingly, up to 10% of people (of all ages) report having a penicillin allergy, but only about 1% are truly allergic. I see this often in my own practice, especially when seeing a new patient and inquiring about drug allergies, and the parent replies, “ she is penicillin allergic, and developed a rash when she was younger”.  In many if not most of those cases the child is not allergic to penicillin.

 

Penicillins are a class of antibiotics known as beta-lactams and include not only penicillin but  amoxicillin, augmentin, oxacillin and nafcillin, just to name a few.  If you are incorrectly identified as penicillin allergic, when your doctor needs to prescribe an antibiotic they may resort to another class of antibiotic, which are not only more expensive but often may cause more side effects.  

 

Penicillins are the antibiotic of choice and the first line treatment for many pediatric bacterial illnesses including otitis ( ear infections ), strep throat, and sinus infections. They are not only effective, but they are typically inexpensive and have few side effects….which includes allergic reactions.

 

Penicillin allergy is an immune - mediated reaction which usually causes hives ( raised rash ), face or throat swelling, difficulty breathing and in some cases life threatening anaphylaxis.  Intolerance to penicillin is different than being allergic, and in this case symptoms are more likely nausea, diarrhea, headache or dizziness, which may make you uncomfortable but are not immune mediated. 

 

In pediatrics, many children present with a viral illness that includes several days of fever and upper respiratory symptoms, and are then also found to have an ear infection. They are given a prescription for amoxicillin and several days later develop a rash. Many viral infections in children also cause a rash, which is typically red, flat and covers the trunk, face and extremities and does not cause any other symptoms which are seen with a true penicillin allergy.  This rash is benign, but unfortunately many young children will be seen at an urgent care or even an ER due to the rash. The parents are told that their child is penicillin allergic and the antibiotic is changed…and the label “pen allergic” sticks….for many years or even life.  I even saw this rash occur in one of my own sons while on an antibiotic. He is NOT allergic!

 

The good news is that most children are truly not penicillin allergic, and if possible I try to see all of my patients who report a rash while they are on an antibiotic. At times this is not possible, and now with the advent of “smart phones” I have parents send me a picture of the child and the rash. This often helps in determining if the rash truly appears allergic and to identify if there are other symptoms.  Back to the “get a good history”. 

 

If I see an older patient who has had a rash on amoxil when they were little and had no other adverse effects (get a good history), I will sometimes try using a penicillin again, as most people also “outrgrow” their sensitivity after about 10 years. If it is my patient and I have seen the rash I tell the parents that this is not a “pen allergy” and I will use penicillins again.  Some  patients will report a “pen-allergy” but say I can take “augmentin” which is penicillin derivative, so that makes it easy to know they are not allergic.  If I am unsure if a child has had a true penicillin allergy I will refer them to a pediatric allergist for skin testing.  Skin testing is not painful and is an important method for documenting a true allergy. 

 

 

   

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Allergies

Fall Allergies & Your Kids

Daily Dose

Use Nasal Saline to Combat Spring Allergies

Spring allergy season is in full swing around the country and we probably have four to six more weeks ahead of us. So many people are having a hard time with allergies this year, and many people are being affected that have never even experienced allergies previously. Check the pollen counts in your area, but ours in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have been sky high and tremendous amount of wind continuing to spread the pollens.

I know I have emphasized the use of steroid nasal sprays in the prevention of allergic symptoms. These need to be taken on a regular basis to provide maximum benefit. But nasal saline irrigation is being shown to be more and more helpful in controlling allergic symptoms. The use of nasal saline has been around for years, originating in India, and allergists have long promoted its use. With endorsements this year by Oprah, the use of the Netti pot has soared and many patients are feeling relief from clogged nasal passages and sinuses that irrigation may provide. Pediatricians have used a form of nasal irrigation for years in infants and young children when they have a cold. The bulb syringe that every parent receives on discharge from the hospital is a mini-Netti pot. By using a small amount of salt-water solution placed into the nostril of an infant, the parent can suction mucous out of an infants nose that they are unable to blow. Young children seem reticent to learn how to blow their nose (although I am convinced that girls acquire this ability before boys who find it perfectly appropriate to wipe it on their sleeve), and many children may be in elementary school before they are capable of effectively blowing their noses. So during this allergy season, you might consider adding a Netti pot (or competitors product, there are many out there) to facilitate removing pollens and other allergens from the nose and sinus cavity. Once you have tried using it, children are even surprised at how much better they feel. I told a little boy today, using the warm water in the nose is a leap of faith, just try it once, the same way you tried riding a bike, and you may find relief from that allergic nose wiping. That's your daily dose, we'll chat again tomorrow.

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Daily Dose

Diagnosing Food Allergies

1.15 to read

Food allergies continue to be a problem in the pediatric population and I often get calls or see a patient for an office visit with a parent who has a concern that their child “may have” reacted to something they ate. Their question is, are they allergic?  

There is a great resource for physicians entitled “The Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States”.  Not all adverse reactions to foods are allergic and it sometimes takes a bit of “detective work”, which is a good history and physical exam, to begin to determine if a child has a food allergy.   

So, when a parent tells me that their child gets a rash on their chin or cheek after eating “xyz” food the questions begin.  Was it the first time they had ever been exposed to that food? Describe the rash and how the child was acting?  Did they have other symptoms with the rash? Was the rash just on a cheek or was it all over? Was it hives? This list of questions go on and on.   

The most common food allergens are egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish and soy. I also ask if this was a one time occurrence, and  If they have tried the food again did it happen every time? Many times hard to tease out what a child has had to eat when they have a mish-mash of food on their plate and nothing is new!  

Is there a family history of allergy or asthma?  Does your child have eczema as well?  If so there is a greater chance of developing a food allergy.  

After a detailed history, and if I do think that the child has a good history for a food allergy, there are tests (skin prick and blood) that may help determine if an allergy may exist.  BUT, with that being said, there are several caveats.  Number one, your doctor should not test for “every” food allergen, only for the suspected food or foods, as there are many false positive tests when you just check all of the boxes for testing IGE levels for an allergy.  For example, if your child eats eggs and has had no problem but the IGE level comes back a bit high for egg allergy, what does that really mean?  In other words, I just test for the suspected culprit. So, I do not test for tree nuts if the parents only had concerns with a peanut product.   More to come on this topic. 

Daily Dose

Diagnosing Celiac Disease

How do you diagnose celiac disease. I received an email via our iPhone App from a mother who was concerned because her 2 year old son had skinny arms and legs, but a “big tummy” and she thought this might be a symptom of celiac disease.  Most toddlers have “big tummies” even if they are skinny kids as their abdominal musculature (future 6 pack) is not developed.

I often have questions from concerned parents whose children are growing perfectly normally, but their “belly sticks out”.  This is often a comment made about little girls (gender specific concerns already!) and I tell the parents that there are not many toddlers that don’t have protuberant little tummies. If you go to the pool in the next several months, check out the baby pool,  as this is not a good age to wear a bikini or “speedo” with that big tummy pushing down the bottoms,   save that look for later on. Now, what do you typically look for in  child who you suspect might have celiac disease?  Celiac disease typically causes failure to thrive in young children. I know this well,  as I got this question wrong on my oral boards many years ago, and have spent the last 20 years making sure never to miss a case. (maybe I should leave that little tidbit out?) At any rate, you see symptoms like persistent diarrhea, weight loss or failure to gain weight, a large protuberant abdomen, and a lack of appetite (no, being a picky eater does not count).   Because celiac disease is an auto-immune disease where the body responds abnormally to a protein (gluten) found in foods like wheat,  rye, barley and many other prepared foods, it differs from a food allergy.  A food allergy typically causes symptoms like hives, wheezing or vomiting. The first step in testing for possible celiac disease will be a blood test on your child.  This will show if there are elevated levels of antibodies, called tissue-trans-glutaminase (tTG), in the blood. If a child has high levels of these antibodies (tTG), then a biopsy of the small intestine may be taken to confirm the diagnosis. A small bowel biopsy is done while a child is sedated, through an endoscope, and actually takes a small piece of the lining of the intestine to see if the villi are flattened and damaged.  The gluten in the diet of a child with celiac disease causes these changes to the intestine, and once gluten is removed from the diet the villi will return to normal and normal absorption of food will take place. If a child is confirmed to have celiac disease (which is as lifelong problem) they have to remain on a gluten free diet, which means restricting many foods and drinks.  A gluten free diet, while seemingly difficult to adhere to at first, will allow the child to grow and develop normally and your child will typically have more energy and feel better in general.  After being on a gluten free diet another blood test may be done to confirm that the tTG level has come down. With the advent of more gluten free products it has become easier for parents and children to follow a gluten free diet. There are many websites that help teach a family to read labels (similar to those with a food allergy) and to also provide resources for recipes or products that are gluten free. Although I continue to look for a patient with celiac disease, I have yet to diagnose one, and remember to consider the diagnosis in any child who is having “failure to thrive”. That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow! Send Dr. Sue your question now!

Daily Dose

Treating Summer Insect Stings

1:30 to read

I am sure there is a purpose for stinging insects in the animal kingdom, but they are quite a nuisance in the human kingdom during the summer months.Staying with the subject of summer ills, I thought it was also appropriate to discuss stinging insects. Stinging insects belong to the order Hymenoptera that includes honeybees, bumble bees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps and fire ants. I am sure there is a purpose for these insects in the animal kingdom, but they are quite a nuisance in the human kingdom during the summer months.

The stinger of the insects delivers their venom to the victim. A honeybee can only sting one time and then dies, while wasps, hornets and yellow jackets may sting multiple times. Bees are actually docile, not very aggressive and typically do not sting, while yellow jackets and hornets are very aggressive (kind of like different types of people). Fire ants, which are so common in the southern and central U.S., also deliver multiple stings by anchoring their little jaws and actually pivoting while they are biting you. Again, the most common reactions to insect stings are local reactions with pain, redness, and swelling at the sting site. These symptoms usually resolve within several hours and require treatment with the local application of cold compresses, a paste of baking powder or meat tenderizer and analgesia with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

There are also cases of marked local swelling and redness that develops over 12 -24 hours and may be quite large. Again, if this occurs within in the first one to two days following an insect sting, it is unlikely to be due to a bacterial infection. It may take up to five to 10 days to totally resolve and is not dangerous, but may be quite uncomfortable. In some cases a short burst of oral steroids may be required to reduce the inflammation. A systemic allergic reaction “anaphylaxis” to an insect sting is defined as “causing signs and symptoms in at least two organ systems distant from the site of the sting”. These symptoms may be cutaneous such as generalized, hives, swelling of lips, mouth or tongue and itching, or involve respiratory tract with difficulty breathing, hoarseness and difficulty swallowing. The symptoms may also involve GI tract with vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain, or circulatory system with dizziness, decrease in BP and loss of consciousness. Although children have a lower frequency of anaphylactic reactions to insect stings than adults, the above symptoms are a medical emergency and require immediate intervention.

If your child has ever had a systemic, anaphylactic reaction to an insect sting they should be prescribed an autoinjectable epinephrine device (Twinject/Epipen) and an anaphylaxis treatment plan for its use. Recent evidence also supports prescribing these devices for children who have experienced a generalized acute hive like rash after a sting because of the 10% risk of a more severe reaction from a future sting. It should be emphasized that multiple doses of epinephrine may be needed (in one study 16 -35%) in treating an anaphylactic reaction after a sting and therefore anyone who has used their own epinephrine should seek immediate medical care as they may require more doses. Children should also have action plans for school, camp etc and should wear a medical identification bracelet.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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