Son's real-life drama leads comedy queen to medical role

September 26, 2012 by Alan Mozes, Healthday Reporter
Son's real-life drama leads comedy queen to medical role
Julie Bowen of 'Modern Family' spearheads allergy-awareness campaign.

(HealthDay)—Actress Julie Bowen, awarded her second Emmy Sunday for her role in the hit TV comedy "Modern Family," starts a more serious role today: raising awareness about life-threatening childhood allergies.

The two-time best supporting actress in a comedy series and mother of three knows firsthand about potentially fatal allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). Her oldest son, Oliver Phillips, was 2 years old when he developed anaphylaxis in reaction to the double-whammy exposure of a bee sting coupled with a bit of peanut butter.

"We had no reason to suspect we might have a problem. He had had peanuts before. And he had always been fine," the Baltimore native explained. "But then one day we found out that, no, he's not."

Almost immediately, Oliver's face swelled dramatically. Other symptoms of anaphylaxis include chest pain; hives; ; tightening of the throat; lip and tongue swelling; nausea; dizziness and fainting.

Bowen's husband, Scott Phillips, who was at home with the toddler, "was terrified," she said. "He knew it was bad." Oliver was rushed to the hospital and immediately given an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline), she said.

Epinephrine is used for the of anaphylactic reactions that can follow exposure to such as peanuts, walnuts, shellfish, bee stings, medications and/or latex.

Although any child can develop an allergy, or abnormal , they are more likely to occur in people whose family members also have allergies.

Bowen now is spearheading the nationwide awareness campaign with the help of Mylan, the pharmaceutical company that makes an epinephrine-loaded delivery device called the EpiPen.

"The goal is education," said Bowen. "We, as parents, can't always be with our children all day, every day. So we want the people around them to be educated."

Oliver, now 5, made a full and quick recovery. "Once he had the proper medicine, it was a very quick process," she noted. "But today we always carry epinephrine with us wherever we go."

Food allergies are the leading cause of anaphylaxis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that food allergies in children have increased 18 percent since 1997. More than 9,000 children are hospitalized because of severe food allergies each year.

Many allergic reactions occur when children accidentally consume foods they're allergic to at school. And as many as one-quarter of anaphylaxis reactions at school occur in students with no history of food allergies, the CDC says.

Bowen said, for her, the take-home message is clear: When it comes to childhood allergies you just never know.

"I'm not a doctor, but I know that for a lot of people it can start off less dramatically," she cautioned. "But the problem can progress . . . Reactions that start out small can get stronger. It's an individual thing."

Parents and school employees shouldn't dismiss a child's complaints, she noted. "We want parents and teachers to know the signs, so that if you see them coughing, scratching at their throat some, or that they've got some rash, that you go ahead and look into it further," she said.

If you suspect your child may have an allergic reaction to anything, get it checked out. "Call 911 if necessary and get medical attention immediately," she added. "Because there's no way to guarantee that your child is never going to have an anaphylactic reaction."

Dr. Carla Davis, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the section of immunology, allergy and rheumatology at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, seconds that point.

"She is correct, in that we don't have a good way to predict who's going to develop anaphylaxis," Davis said. "There are some new tests with the potential to help people know who might be at risk, but these are not 100 percent accurate."

The odds are not insignificant, "given that one to two children in each classroom could potentially be at risk for a serious food allergy," Davis said. Of those, 30 to 40 percent would be at risk for life-threatening anaphylaxis, she noted.

Epinephrine is a very simple treatment that is underutilized, she added. "Many people don't know that it's the first-line treatment, and caregivers must act quickly in order to treat effectively," Davis said.

How quickly? Ideally, within minutes of the child developing a reaction, followed by continued monitoring in an emergency room setting for secondary reactions, Davis said.

Explore further: Options increasing for coping with kids' food allergies

More information: For more on anaphylaxis, visit the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.


Related Stories

Options increasing for coping with kids' food allergies

August 3, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Kids with a serious food allergy generally have to steer clear of the offending food, but methods now under development could change that common scenario.

Study identifies causes for high rates of allergic reactions in children with food allergies

June 25, 2012
A team of researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine and four other institutions have found that young children with documented or likely allergies to milk and/or eggs, whose families were instructed on how to avoid ...

Bee pollen supplements can cause anaphylactic reactions

May 22, 2012
Although many people take bee pollen as a health supplement, it can cause severe anaphylactic reactions. However, most people are unaware of the risks, states an article published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Severe reactions to food more common than thought in young children (w/ Video)

June 25, 2012
Young children with allergies to milk and egg experience an unexpectedly high number of reactions to these and other foods, according to researchers at National Jewish Health. More than 70 percent of preschool children with ...

Recommended for you

Study explores whole-body immunity

November 21, 2017
Over the next few months, millions of people will receive vaccinations in the hope of staving off the flu—and the fever, pain, and congestion that come with it.

Drug could cut transplant rejection

November 21, 2017
A diabetes drug currently undergoing development could be repurposed to help end transplant rejection, without the side-effects of current immunosuppressive drugs, according to new research by Queen Mary University of London ...

Atopic eczema—one size does not fit all

November 21, 2017
Researchers from the UK and Netherlands have identified five distinct subgroups of eczema, a finding that helps explain how the condition can affect people at different stages of their lives.

Breast milk found to protect against food allergy

November 20, 2017
Eating allergenic foods during pregnancy can protect your child from food allergies, especially if you breastfeed, suggests new research from Boston Children's Hospital. The study, published online today in the Journal of ...

Zika-related nerve damage caused by immune response to the virus

November 20, 2017
The immune system's response to the Zika virus, rather than the virus itself, may be responsible for nerve-related complications of infection, according to a Yale study. This insight could lead to new ways of treating patients ...

How a poorly explored immune cell may impact cancer immunity and immunotherapy

November 17, 2017
The immune cells that are trained to fight off the body's invaders can become defective. It's what allows cancer to develop. So most research has targeted these co-called effector T-cells.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.