Early this summer, an airline passenger began experiencing a life-threatening allergic reaction to a food he ingested 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. There was no epinephrine autoinjector onboard. Had it not been for a doctor stepping forward to administer vialed epinephrine, the passenger may not have received the care required to survive.
Soon after this near-tragic incident, two U.S. senators called on airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration to put the necessary policies in place to make sure epinephrine autoinjectors are included in every commercial aircraft’s onboard medical kit. The 32 million Americans living with food allergies agree. Now is the time to stand up and prevent the worst-case scenario from happening: a fatal anaphylactic reaction on an airplane due to the lack of proper medical equipment.
Food allergies in the United States have reached epidemic proportions. This public health crisis now affects roughly 10 percent of the population. According to Food Allergy Research and Education-supported research, insurance claims with diagnoses of life-threatening anaphylactic food reactions rose nearly 400 percent nationwide between 2007 and 2016.
Yet, despite this alarming growth in the prevalence of severe food allergy reactions, there is still no cure. There is not even a viable treatment option. Avoidance is a patient’s first, and only, line of defense. In the event of an accidental exposure, the use of an epinephrine auto-injector followed by a trip to the emergency room remains the only option for those living with a food allergy that could send them into anaphylaxis at any moment.
Given the gravity of the situation, it is incumbent on us all to do everything possible to protect Americans with food allergies. Ensuring access to epinephrine auto-injectors in commercial airplanes is one small and simple step in that direction. That’s why we at FARE are calling on all U.S. airlines to take the steps necessary to make this a reality.
Since 2003, the FAA has required all airlines to carry epinephrine in their onboard medical kits. But most airlines today only stock vials of the drug and not the easy-to-use autoinjectors.
This practice raises problems that could one day prove to be fatal. Most Americans do not know how to determine the proper dose of epinephrine to administer from a vial to treat an anaphylactic food allergy reaction, nor do they know how to safely and properly do so without an autoinjector.
FARE is calling on every U.S. airline to join us in our effort to keep all Americans safe while flying. To do this, we need a voluntary and unanimous commitment from all commercial airlines to include easy-to-use autoinjectors in all onboard medical kits without prompting from the FAA. We also need their help in ensuring they can meet this commitment through a concerted effort in Washington, putting pressure on lawmakers and pharmaceutical companies to see that this life-saving medication is accessible and available.
Finally, FARE hopes to work with all airlines on a solution to ambiguous policies that do not currently allow passengers with food allergies to pre-board airplanes and take necessary precautions, such as wiping down their seats and tray tables, that can mitigate in-flight risk.
The time is now for action on behalf of the tens of millions of Americans living with food allergies. Together, we can make sure we are doing everything possible to protect them while doubling down on our commitment to finding a cure for this disease.
Lisa Gable is the CEO of Food Allergy Research & Education.
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