Following the tragic death of Oakley Debbs, an 11-year-old boy who unknowingly ate walnuts last month, it’s time to get educated about EpiPens and how to use them in the event of an emergency.
After Oakley tested weakly positive for a peanut and tree nut allergy, his family tried to steer him clear of foods containing nuts. But they didn’t realize just how serious his nut allergy was the day he ate a piece of cake containing walnuts.
Though they had an EpiPen on hand, the Debbs family didn’t use it because they didn’t realize Oakley was going into anaphylactic shock. His parents believe that his untimely death could have been prevented if they had known more about nut allergies and EpiPens.
Oakley’s death is raising questions about how to know if an allergy is serious enough to carry an EpiPen and, more importantly, how to use one properly.
EpiPens contain epinephrine, which is the best treatment available for allergic reactions, according to Dr. Todd Green, an allergist and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburch Medical Center.
“It acts throughout the body,” Green told TODAY.
Experts say that if a child has shown mild symptoms in the past, their next reaction to the allergen is likely to be worse, which is why it’s so important to carry an EpiPen.
“There is absolutely no guarantee that a history of only mild reactions guarantees the same in the future,” Green said.
And, even though the symptoms from a current exposure may start off mild, they can worsen rapidly, according to Richi Gupta, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and director of the Food Allergies Outcomes Program at Northwestern.
That’s what happened to Oakley, whose initial reaction was a tiny blister on his lip that disappeared after he took a dose of Benadryl. But later, his symptoms became deadly.
If your child has a nut allergy and has consumed nuts, administer epinephrine and then call 911.
“If you start getting anything around the mouth or the lips or the tongue or the throat, that’s very, very worrisome, that’s when you want to talk to your doctor about carrying an EpiPen,” John Torres, medical director of Premier Urgent Care in Colorado Springs, told TODAY.
Since teachers and other parents may be responsible for a child with nut allergies during school hours or a play date, it’s important that everyone who cares for children regularly understand how to use an EpiPen.
Typically, an EpiPen has two colored ends—one blue and one orange. An easy way to remember which side contains the needle is to say the phrase, “Blue to the sky, orange to the thigh.”
Remove the blue cap and grab the child’s thigh tightly to prevent it from moving. Then, in one swift motion, jam the orange side of the EpiPen into the child’s leg. Hold the device in place for several seconds, according to an instruction manual produced by EpiPen.
Then, once the epinephrine has been administered, call for an ambulance.
“The effects of epinephrine can wear off or you could have a second reaction, so call 911 or go to the emergency room right after using EpiPen,” according to the device’s website.