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Life-Threatening Allergies: We All Have a Role To Play

On September 29, 2003, 13-year-old Sabrina died from a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) after having eaten French fries at her Pembroke high school. A number of things went wrong after her anaphylactic reaction. Most importantly, Sabrina didn’t have her EpiPen® with her at the time.

Sabrina understood what it meant to have anaphylaxis. She knew what precautions to take. She also knew the importance of public awareness and education about anaphylaxis. In fact, when she was 10-years old she produced a CBC radio documentary with her aunt’s help entitled “A Nutty Tale”. But at 13-years old, she let down her guard and made a fatal mistake, which cost her her life. For many who live with anaphylaxis — letting down their guard, becoming complacent, even for just one moment, is not an option.

Having a child or youth with life-threatening allergies can be very scary. Parents fear for their child’s safety when he or she is not with a parent. While parents whose child lives with life-threatening allergies must take responsibility for their children’s safety, they should also be able to rely on community respect and support. Whether it is at school, daycares, or recreation centres, community understanding and awareness can make a big difference.

Children and youth with life-threatening allergies should be taught what to do if they happen to have an anaphylactic reaction. Some allergic children feel apprehensive about going to school. They worry about the following questions:

  • Will I be safe at school?
  • Will I be singled out or teased?
  • Will people listen to me if I am having a reaction?
  • Will they know what to do?

Their parents, and even their teachers may also be apprehensive. Awareness within the school community keeps these children from being singled out and keeps them safe.

As a parent, you can help educate your child in understanding why peanuts and peanut products are not allowed at school and what he/she can do to keep their allergic friends safe. You can suggest these tips:


  • Wash your hands after eating.
  • Watch out for things that could make your allergic friend sick.
  • Get help from an adult if you are worried about your friend.


  • Don't share food with a food allergic friend.
  • Don't share straws, drinks or utensils.
  • Don't tease someone with food allergies.

Food is the most common cause of anaphylaxis, but insect stings, medicine, latex, or exercise can also cause a reaction. The commonest food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, egg and milk products.

Anaphylaxis affects multiple body systems: skin, upper and lower respiratory, gastro-intestinal and cardiovascular. Anaphylactic shock is an explosive overreaction of the body's immune system to a triggering agent (allergen). It can be characterized by swelling, difficulty breathing, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, circulatory collapse, coma and death.

Symptoms of anaphylactic shock tend to develop rapidly although the initial presentation can be delayed and/or deceptively mild. The victim may become uneasy, upset and red in the face. They may also develop a rapid heartbeat, prickling and itchiness in the skin, throbbing in the ears, sneezing, coughing and difficulty breathing. Shock may then follow, in which blood vessels become leaky, blood pressure falls and the person becomes cold, clammy and faint.

Approximately 1–2 percent of Canadians live with the risk of an anaphylactic reaction. More than 50 percent of Canadians know someone with a life-threatening allergy.

Although anaphylaxis is most often diagnosed in childhood, it can also develop later in life. Living with anaphylaxis can be a challenge. People with this condition must learn how to avoid the allergen that causes their reaction. They must also be prepared to manage an unexpected reaction. It is important to be reevaluated regularly in order to monitor the condition.

If you are concerned that your child may have allergies, make sure that you bring them up with your doctor and follow up with a referral to an allergist if necessary.

Visit Why Riskit, a site made by Anaphylaxis Canada to promote a healthy life style for youth with severe food allergies.

The Ottawa Anaphylaxis Support Group, 819-778-2562

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