Almost 70 percent cases of potentially life-threatening food allergy incidents in children received no epinephrine (EpiPen) treatment. EpiPen use reduces the symptoms associated with allergy until proper medical care is available.

Allergic reaction to food is common among children. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC, about four out of every hundred children in the U.S suffers from a food allergy.  However, many studies like the present one have shown that parents and teachers often fail to administer epinephrine to children.  

In the present study, almost 70 percent of 512 children studied suffered a significant reaction to common food items during the three-year study period but few children were given an EpiPen during severe allergic reaction. The drug is an essential emergency medicine in such cases.

"Our findings clearly point to a need for parents and other caregivers to be even more vigilant in avoiding allergenic foods and treating reactions appropriately. They also suggest several strategies that both caregivers and healthcare workers can pursue to make mealtime safe for food-allergic children," said David Fleischer, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health and lead author of the study.

The reasons for caregivers' failure to administer the drug could be unavailability of epinephrine, fear or anxiety by the parent to administer the required dose or even that some caregivers didn't recognize the symptoms of food allergy.

The agency also says that food allergies among children are increasing in the U.S. Compared to 1997, the number of children having a food allergy had rose by almost 18 percent in 2007.

"It is very important for caregivers of food-allergic children to carry an EpiPen with them at all times, know how to recognize a serious reaction and how to use an EpiPen. Correctly using an EpiPen at the right time can save a life," said co-author of the study Dan Atkins, MD, professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health.

From 2004 to 2006, there were approximately 9,500 hospital discharges per year with a diagnosis related to food allergy among children under age 18 years, according to the CDC.

Another study published in 2006 discovered that EpiPen auto-injectors and emergency kits were not easily available at school. Many doctors stress the issue of schools being prepared to handle food allergies stating that staff must be trained to administer the required dose of the medication.

The present study was published in Pediatrics. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.