What nurses need to know about supporting children with severe allergies

With a sharp rise in hospital admissions of children for anaphylaxis in the UK since 2013-14, it is important for nurses to keep up to date on allergy issues and auto-injectors

Lynne Regent of the charity Anaphylaxis Campaign advises nurses to update their knowledge on supporting children at risk from severe allergic reactions

Picture shows a boy using an Epipen in his thigh, demonstrating what to do in the event of an anaphylactic shock. Lynne Regent of the charity Anaphylaxis Campaign outlines what nurses need to know to support people at risk from severe allergic reactions.
Picture: Alamy

With NHS Digital reporting a 70% rise in hospital admissions of under 18s for anaphylaxis in the past five years and issues over the supply and functions of adrenaline auto injectors (AAI), the national helpline of the charity Anaphylaxis Campaign has seen an increase in calls from concerned parents and carers.

Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening severe allergic reaction that occurs when someone is exposed to what for them is an allergen, such as food, medication or latex. Symptoms include breathing difficulty, a persistent cough and low blood pressure, and requires an immediate emergency response.

Every school will likely have at least one pupil who is severely allergic

It is estimated that 5-8% of children in the UK have a proven food allergy and every UK school is likely to have at least one pupil who is severely allergic to certain foods. Schools have a responsibility to ensure staff receive high-quality training in managing allergies.

With the support of a school nurse, an allergy plan should be put in place that accommodates the child’s needs. Nurses can also review policies if a reaction occurs, ensure that adrenaline auto-injectors (AAIs) are appropriately stored in an easily accessible, secure location, and help teachers to understand the information available.

Anaphylaxis can be treated quickly with an AAI, which is why it is important that the patient and those around them know how and when to use one.

Schools have also been allowed since October 2017 to buy AAIs without prescription for use in an emergency. Adrenaline auto-injectors have an expiry date and in the UK there are three brands – Emerade, EpiPen and Jext – all of which have an expiry alert service that reminds users when to purchase another device.

This year Anaphylaxis Campaign has been alerted to several issues with auto-injectors, and it is important for nurses to ensure they are up to date with these. Nurses should check statements about auto-injectors by the charity, which also alerts its healthcare professional members when it receives new information.

It is important that children at risk can still participate in school activities

Today’s school nurses often cover multiple schools but all school staff can have their attention drawn to the charity’s free, trusted resources and information online, as part of its Making Schools Safer Project. The Anaphylaxis Campaign also has free 45-minute online AllergyWise training courses for parents, carers and schools.

For children who are at risk of severe allergic reactions it is important that they can still participate in all school activities, including school trips and cookery lessons.

Spending a few minutes checking that a child with allergies understands how to use their AAI and that they feel confident in speaking about their allergies can make a huge difference. For additional concerns, individuals and parents can contact the Anaphylaxis Campaign helpline on 01252 542029, open Monday to Friday 9am-5pm, or email

The advice for individuals with severe allergies is to always carry two devices, ensure they are registered with the manufacturer’s expiry alert service and obtain a replacement device before disposing of the old one.

They should always make sure to have a trainer device, which can be ordered free from the manufacturer, ensure family and friends are aware of how to use their particular device and know that in an emergency they should call 999, ask for an ambulance and say someone is suffering from anaphylaxis.

Picture of Lynne Regent of the charity Anaphylaxis Campaign, who outlines what nurses need to know to support people at risk from severe allergic reactions.Lynne Regent is chief executive of the Anaphylaxis Campaign



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