My son, Auggie Maturo, an actor on the Emmy®-nominated show "Girl Meets World," was diagnosed with food allergies after he tried cashews for the first time as a young child. He immediately experienced anaphylaxis – a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Auggie, like the estimated one in 13 U.S. children with a food allergy, knows that having a potentially life-threatening (severe) allergy is serious. We want to share what we've learned along the way to help increase awareness about anaphylaxis.
1. Have a plan. The first thing we learned is the importance of having an anaphylaxis action plan. For Auggie, his plan includes 1) avoiding his known allergic triggers to tree nuts, peanuts, sesame and coconut; 2) recognizing the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis; 3) having access at all times to two epinephrine auto-injectors, such as EpiPen Jr® (epinephrine injection) Auto-Injectors; and 4) seeking immediate emergency medical care should anaphylaxis occur.
2. Make managing food allergies part of everyday life. We talk as a family about how to help Auggie avoid his allergic triggers and have his two EpiPen Jr® Auto-Injectors everywhere he goes. You might be surprised to know that up to 20% of people who experience anaphylaxis need more than one dose of epinephrine.
3. Don't ignore any signs or symptoms. We've learned that signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis can vary from one person to another but may include hives, swelling or redness of the skin, tightness in the throat, trouble breathing, nausea or vomiting. Although we always do all we can to avoid Auggie's allergic triggers, we know that life happens and we need to be prepared. Auggie has experienced anaphylaxis twice: the first time was before we knew he had food allergies and most recently he mistakenly ate a cookie that contained nuts. The second time, we were able to quickly recognize that the symptoms he was experiencing – vomiting, swollen lips, throat closure – were signs of anaphylaxis. We knew this was a medical emergency, administered his epi pen and sought immediate emergency medical care.
4. Empower your child. We encourage Auggie to tell others about his food allergies and talk about his anaphylaxis action plan with friends, family, teachers and those on set. We are proud that Auggie feels comfortable letting people know what he can and cannot eat or drink. We have told him that he cannot eat a single bite of food without knowing exactly what is in it, and he follows that guideline. We also make it a family affair to read labels in the supermarket and ask about ingredients when Auggie eats at a restaurant, at school, on set or on vacation.
5. Teach other parents. While we encourage Auggie to advocate for himself, it is also vital for other caregivers and parents to understand his action plan. I explain Auggie's food allergies as simply as I can while conveying how serious they are. I want them to know that even though their child may not have food allergies, they should be mindful of other children at all times. If Auggie has a playdate at a friend's house, I explain his food allergies to the parents and offer to send him with a snack from home. I confirm they are comfortable helping Auggie avoid his allergic triggers and taking action if he is accidentally exposed. If they are not comfortable, I ask if their child can come to our house instead. I've been lucky so far that the parents have always understood.
6. Call ahead. If we are going out to dinner, I always call the restaurant to make sure there will be options for Auggie to eat, and we talk to the restaurant staff and chef once we arrive. This means asking about all parts of the meal, including oils, garnishes, appetizers and desserts. We reinforce the need to avoid his allergic triggers because he can have a life-threatening allergic reaction if exposed to these foods.
7. Spread the word. We have found the food allergy community to be so helpful. National advocacy groups, such as Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), Allergy & Asthma Network (AAN) and Kids with Food Allergies (KFA), can connect you with like-minded families in your area and provide information about community events. We recently shared our story with Kids with Food Allergies to raise awareness and you can check out our video on the EpiPen® (epinephrine injection) Auto-Injector Official YouTube Page.
8. Talk to your doctor. Please talk to your doctor if you think your child may be at risk for anaphylaxis. Food allergy guidelines state that epinephrine is the only first-line treatment that a person experiencing a life-threatening allergic reaction should receive. Your doctor can help determine a treatment that's right for you.
Maha Maturo is a spokesperson for Mylan, the marketer and distributor of EpiPen Jr®