A 15 year-old girl with known peanut allergies has died after eating a Chips Ahoy cookie that she mistakenly thought was peanut-free.
Alexi Ryann Stafford, of Weston, Florida, was at a friend’s house when she reached for a cookie in the red Chips Ahoy packaging, famous for being the “Chewy” type. However, she did not read the package delineating it was the “Chewy Reeses Peanut Butter cups/chips” brand.
Both packages are similar in color, and Alexi immediately began to feel symptoms. She went home, was given two Epi-Pens while waiting for paramedics, but unfortunately went into anaphylactic shock and died within 90 minutes of consuming the cookie.
Her mother, Kellie Travers-Stafford, is now calling for more warning labels on the packaging.
If one is allergic to an insect or food, a severe allergic reaction may ensue upon exposure, in which the immune system releases a flood of chemicals that can cause throat tightness, hives, lip and facial swelling, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, cardiac arrest and possibly death. This anaphylaxis needs to be treated immediately while maintaining airway support and minimizing the allergic response.
The EpiPen® auto-injector contains epinephrine, a drug of choice in these situations.
Epinephrine stimulates the heart to increase cardiac muscle contractility, cardiac output, subsequently raising the blood pressure. Additionally it relaxes the muscles surrounding the airways, allowing one to breathe easier and take in more oxygen. Moreover it helps to stop the release of additional immune chemicals.
The EpiPen® is manufactured by Mylan. Its cost made headlines when the EpiPen two-pack recently stickered for close to $600. Now generic forms are available costing anywhere from $109-$300 for a dual pack.
The disposable auto-injector, for an adult, delivers 0.3 mg of epinephrine, while the EpiPen Jr., used in pediatric populations, delivers 0.15mg of the medication. It can be self-administered, through clothing if necessary, into the thigh muscle in one smooth movement once the safety release is removed.
What Foods Cause Anaphylaxis?
Any food could theoretically cause an allergic reaction, mild or severe, but the most common culprits include:
- Nuts (peanut, tree nuts, pistachio, etc.)
Food Allergies are Rising
According to FARE – Food Allergy Research and Education, 15 million adults have food allergies, including approx. 6 million children, or 1 in 13 kids.
On their website they report:
- The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that the prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.
- Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of peanut or tree nut allergy appears to have more than tripled in U.S. children.
Why are food allergies rising?
Multiple theories have been suggested. Some include:
- The hormones in our food alter our immune system, making it more sensitive
- The preservatives in our food may have the same effect, sensitizing our immune system
- We may be “too clean”…over sanitizing or not exposing our children to the outdoors as we did as children, thus preventing their immune system to mature
- Our gut microbiome may be changing as we eat more of a fatty, junk food diet, having some effect on our ability to manage food allergens.
- Vitamin D deficiency, caused by lack of sunlight and playing outdoors, might be a risk factor for severe allergies
- Obesity has been linked to allergies and asthma, and the average weight of an American has risen over the past few decades
Researchers are desperately working on desensitization treatments for those with severe food allergies. In the meantime, however, those who are vulnerable need to be extremely cautious about what they eat, stock EpiPens®, have a plan for alerting the Emergency Medical System, and wear medical alert bracelets for others to be aware in time of an emergency.