It seems like the obvious first choice for a person having a life-threatening allergic reaction.

But a new study found that epinephrine is not often the first line of treatment used by paramedics. In fact, only a small percentage of people suffering from anaphylaxis–chest pain, trouble breathing, swelling in the throat–receive epinephrine from a paramedic.

Minutes for care

A delay in using epinephrine, which helps to regulate critical functions like heart rate and the diameter of blood vessel passages, is one of the leading causes of death related to food allergies.

The study was presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting, which took place Nov. 8-13 in Anaheim, Calif. Researchers looked at almost 100 paramedic run sheets, where 40 cases were allergic reactions and 52 were anaphylaxis. Of those cases, only 15 percent of patients received epinephrine for their symptoms.

Proper training for paramedics

Given that food allergy reactions can develop very suddenly and peak to become life-threatening within minutes, medical professionals are concerned about how well paramedics are being trained to respond to these types of situations.

“Paramedic education on the indications and use of epinephrine for allergic reactions and anaphylaxis needs to be implemented,” said Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, lead study author and chief medical officer of emergency medicine at Broward Health.

Paramedics must also learn how to administer proper dosage based on age and weight, as giving too much or too little to a patient can cause complications or even death.

Earlier this month, an Ohio resident was hospitalized for a heart attack after an allergic reaction was treated with too high a dose of epinephrine. She is suing the city of Akron for more than $25,000.

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