Knowing what to do during an allergy emergency can mean the difference between life and death.

For Dylan Brennan, who lives with severe food allergies, life can be a constant struggle to implement and maintain risk-reducing strategies. Dylan is just one of over 2.5 million Canadians who self-report with food allergies in their lifetime.

A recent Ipsos Reid survey commissioned by Allerject™ found that almost two-thirds of Canadians said they would not know what to do if presented with an allergy emergency such as an individual suffering anaphylaxis; a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur within seconds of exposure to an allergen such as peanuts, shellfish or soy.

The individual’s immune system releases a flood of chemicals that can cause them to go into shock.

“It would make me feel better if there was more awareness around how to treat a reaction,” says Dylan. “The more people that know about anaphylaxis, the safer everyone would be.”

The difference between life and death

According to the survey, half of all Canadians said they would not recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis and would not know how to use an epinephrine auto-injector; a device used to treat serious allergic reactions. Auto-injectors are considered easy to use, but four in ten Canadians say they are afraid that they would use the auto-injector incorrectly and cause harm.

“The auto-injector talking to me and guiding me through the injection process was actually the best thing possible.”

For Beatrice Povolo, Director of Marketing and Communications at Anaphylaxis Canada, whose son was diagnosed with a severe food allergy at age three, educating and raising awareness in the general public is key.

“Like many young parents, I was not familiar with food allergies,” says Beatrice. “When my son had his first allergic reaction, it was the first time I had ever seen the symptoms of an allergic reaction firsthand.”

For many parents of children with food allergies, experiencing a reaction for the first time is quite overwhelming, especially if they are not familiar with what symptoms to look for and how to treat it. Knowing what to do if your child was to experience a reaction is crucial.

There are services and centers where parents of children with severe food allergies can seek support and educate themselves on how to properly deal with food allergies at every stage of their child’s life, such as the Newly Diagnosed Support Centre, that was launched by Anaphylaxis Canada.

“We want to empower individuals living with food allergies and those who care for them, with the information they need to stay safe,” says Beatrice. “We want to teach them that, although they need to be vigilant, their allergies shouldn’t stand in the way of pursuing their goals.”

Epinephrine auto-injectors are the most effective method of slowing down an allergic reaction and giving individuals time to call 911. Fear of using them incorrectly is, however, still the major stumbling block in successful treatment.

Dylan [left] opens up about living with severe food allergies and helping his brother Jason [right] during a severe allergic reaction. Photo: Michael Dave Dizon

An innovative option

One auto-injector, Allerject™, has been developed specifically with those anxieties in mind. This treatment works like traditional auto-injectors but is programmed to verbally talk the person through the injection process.

For Dylan, whose brother also lives with severe allergies, that voice made all the difference during his brother’s anaphylactic reaction. Dylan’s brother broke out in hives after coming into contact with an allergen and, despite both of their experience with auto-injectors, they felt anxious and briefly argued about who should administer the dose. Eventually, Dylan administered the epinephrine using the speech assisted auto injector.

“The auto-injector talking to me and guiding me through the injection process was actually the best thing possible,” says Dylan. “It calmed me down, it calmed my brother down.”

The programmed voice details in simple steps exactly what an individual using the auto-injector should do. “It tells you how to open it, where on the body to place it. It tells you everything you need to know in that moment,” says Dylan. “It was so helpful to have that.”