Half of Kids Don't Get Epinephrine Until They Get to the ER

doctors office, emergency room
(Image credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

When a person has a severe allergic reaction, an injection of epinephrine can be lifesaving, and the sooner, the better.

But a new study finds that less than 40 percent of kids who had this type of allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, received an injection of epinephrine before they got to the emergency room or an urgent care clinic.

Epinephrine can be given immediately to a child with anaphylaxis using an epinephrine auto-injector, a device that automatically injects a dose of the drug into a person's body. EpiPens are one type of epinephrine auto-injector. [8 Strange Signs You're Having an Allergic Reaction]

In the study, the researchers looked at medical records from more than 400 kids and teens who went to either the emergency room or the urgent care clinic at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio for a severe allergic reaction. Nearly half of the patients were ages 5 or younger.

Only 36 percent of the kids in the study received epinephrine before arriving at the hospital or clinic, the researchers found. Not every patient included in the study ended up being treated with epinephrine once they arrived, the researchers noted. But 50 percent of the patients in the study did receive it when they arrived at the hospital or clinic, including some who had already gotten it before seeking care, the researchers found.

The children and teens were more likely to have received the drug prior to arriving at the hospital if their allergic reaction struck while they were at school, the researchers found.

"Treatment with epinephrine is often delayed or avoided by parents and caregivers," lead study author Dr. Melissa Robinson, an allergist at the National Jewish Hospital in Denver, said in a statement. "And sometimes, antihistamines are used even though they are not an appropriate treatment." Antihistamines are another common type of allergy medicine.

A majority of the kids and teens included in the study had had an anaphylactic reaction in the past, the researchers noted, but less than half of those patients had been prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector. And among those who did have a prescription, only about two-thirds had the device with them at the time of allergic reaction.

But the symptoms of anaphylaxis "occur suddenly and can progress quickly," senior study author Dr. David Stukus, an allergist at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said in a statement. "It's vital to keep your epinephrine with you if you suffer from any sort of severe allergy."

In fact, people with such allergies should also carry a second dose of the medicine, Stukus said. "When in doubt, administer [that second dose], too." 

The study was published July 12 in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.