Epinephrine and Teenagers

Angie Best-Boss, Contributing Writer

It was easy for Ethan to manage his food allergies at home. His mom and dad were very careful and made sure all of the foods in their house were certified as allergy-free. At school, it wasn’t too bad, either – his mom and the high school cafeteria had come up with a pretty decent plan. It was when he was over at someone’s house or out with friends that having food allergies was a pain. He was afraid he looked stupid reading food labels in front of his friends, so sometimes, he just guessed if a food was safe and took his chances.

Ethan isn’t alone. A new study indicates teens with food allergies admit to taking potentially deadly risks with their health, particularly when out with friends1. They don’t read labels, don’t let friends know they have a medical condition, and what’s worse is that teens frequently fail to take their potentially life-saving medication along when engaging in certain activities.

Epinephrine is also called “adrenaline” and it is the medication of choice for controlling a severe allergic reaction. It is available as an Epinephrine auto injector ">auto-injector by prescription. While 94% of teens carry it when traveling, only 43% bring it along when playing sports. Nearly a third leave it home when attending a school dance or going to a friend's house.

Because symptoms can occur quickly after contact with the allergy causing substance2, prompt administration of Epinephrine is critical. In fact, if symptoms have not improved within ten to fifteen minutes, a second dose is needed2.

For example, in September 2003, 13-year old Sabrina Shannon died after sitting down at her Pembroke, Ontario school cafeteria to eat lunch. She had a severe allergic reaction to french fries contaminated with a dairy product. Before staff could retrieve her life-saving device, Sabrina died from anaphylactic shock.

Teenagers must be taught particularly well so they can avoid both needless restrictions and inappropriate risk. Research also indicates that teenagers may not know how to properly self-administer the epinephrine3. Extra caution needs to be taken by parents and physicians so teens with peanut allergies aware of all the situations in which they can eat foods that can cause reactions and how important it is to always have their medication.


  1. Scott H. Sicherer, MD. Deadly combination: Risk-taking behavior, social isolation put teens at high risk. American Academy of Pediatric News. 2007; 28:14
  2. Korenblat P, Lundie MJ, Dankner RE, Day JH. A retrospective study
    of epinephrine administration for anaphylaxis: how many doses are needed? Allergy Asthma Proc. 1999;20(6):383-386.
  3. Scott H. Sicherer, MD. Use assessment of self-administered epinephrine among food-allergic children and pediatricians. Pediatrics. 2000;105(2):359

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