What doctors aren’t telling parents about food allergies

"There is a gap in the communication between doctors and parents in management of their children's food allergies that we need to fix," Ruchi Gupta says. (Credit: iStockphoto)

If a child with a food allergy has a life-threatening reaction, parents need to know how to act, but many say doctors aren’t teaching them when and how to use an epinephrine auto-injector.

Physicians also aren’t providing a written emergency food allergy action plan for home and school.

“This is potentially lifesaving information.”

“These points need to be hammered home by the physician at every visit,” says Ruchi Gupta, an associate professor in pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital. “This is potentially lifesaving information.”

According to a large study, less than 70 percent of parents recalled their allergists explaining when to use epinephrine and less than 40 percent said the same of their pediatricians. Even fewer recalled being shown how to use epinephrine or being given a written emergency action plan by their allergists and pediatricians.

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Guidelines for treatment provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases aren’t being followed, Gupta says. While the majority of parents reported quality health care from their children’s pediatricians and allergists, Gupta notes, they lacked essential guidance for managing their children’s food allergies.

Not all physicians prescribe epinephrine for all food allergy diagnoses, although this is part of the treatment guidelines. In addition, research has shown many pediatricians are not adequately trained on how to use the epinephrine auto-injectors and don’t feel comfortable showing patients how to use the devices.

“There is a gap in the communication between doctors and parents in management of their children’s food allergies that we need to fix,” Gupta says.

“Physicians have to make sure the parents can repeat back the directions,” Gupta adds. “Parents may not be digesting all the information given to them in a short period of time.”

The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, included 859 parents from the Children’s Memorial Hospital Food Allergy Questionnaire who had two visits a year with their children’s physicians. Parents were recruited from around the Chicago metro area and interviewed by the Northwestern research staff.

Funding from Food Allergy Research and Education, the Bunning Family Food Allergy Project, the Chicago Community Trust, the Sacks Family Fund, and the National Institutes of Health supported the study.

Source: Northwestern University