An aged care executive is calling on the sector to remove latex from workplaces and be more allergen aware, particularly in kitchens, as part of efforts to raise awareness about dangerous allergic reactions.
Ananda Aged Care clinical director Dr Pooja Newman founded Global Anaphylaxis Awareness and Inclusivity (Globalaai) last month, four days after she experienced a near-fatal allergic reaction.
Dr Newman was attending a concert in Adelaide when balloons covered in latex powder were unexpectedly released.
Her campaign, which has already gained thousands of supporters globally, aims to help reduce the stigma of anaphylaxis – a severe and potentially life threatening allergic reaction – and increase safety for those at risk.
Globalaai is calling for:
- widespread availability of emergency adrenaline – EpiPens – in public venues and food outlets
- mandatory training for the hospitality industry
- social awareness and
- latex-free services in healthcare, retail and public venues.
Dr Newman, a medical doctor and the deputy chair of South Australia’s Aged Care Industry Association, wants to create change in aged care and is aiming to introduce a practical template for allergy safety in facilities.
“Ask the questions around anaphylaxis and identify at-risk individuals, support them and be inclusive,” Dr Newman told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“I am lobbying to remove latex in aged care and be allergen aware particularly in kitchens.”
Allergic diseases are among the fastest growing chronic conditions in Australia, affecting one in five Australians while deaths from anaphylaxis have increased by 7 per cent per year for the last seven years, according to the National Allergy Strategy.
Dr Newman, who has survived 30 anaphylactic episodes, is severely allergic to peanuts, all tree nuts and latex including latex associated fruits such as bananas.
“This has been the most severe anaphylaxis I have had and it has taken me longer than usual to recover from feeling weak, a little breathless and flat,” she said.
The release of the balloons covered in latex-powder – done without pre-concert caution that only mentioned strobe lights, pyrotechnics and confetti – was followed by the injection of three EpiPens and four days in intensive care.
Dr Newman is seeking global awareness so people with allergies can be better informed about the risks they may face.
Risks in aged care
Latex, for example, was the cause of occupational latex allergy, which had mild symptoms including a rash, asthma and very rarely anaphylaxis, Dr Newman said.
“We know that latex allergy occurs from exposure to latex and if it is minimised in aged care then latex anaphylaxis could potentially become a problem of the past.”
She said Ananda has been latex free since its inception and that latex-free products including gloves made of vinyl or nitrile were freely available and cost neutral.
Poor awareness and education among aged care staff, cognitive decline among clients and the stigma attached to anaphylaxis were among other key issues for the aged care and retirement living sectors, said Dr Newman.
She is currently discussing her campaign with aged care peak bodies.
Kitchens, particularly in aged care, are not suitably trained for anaphylaxis food safety and cross contamination is an issue that urgently needs to be addressed, Dr Newman argued.
“Older Australians with cognitive decline may not be in a position to advocate for the safety of themselves in terms of identifying their allergies appropriately.
“I see staff in workplaces currently not necessarily declaring life threatening allergies and potentially having their EpiPen in their bag in their locker and having the potential for a life threatening reaction in their workplace,” she said.
Dr Newman said workplaces did not have general use EpiPens, which saved lives as seconds counted from the commencement of an anaphylactic reaction to reversing the process and preventing morbidity and mortality associated with anaphylaxis.
“Aged care facilities in particular often have contractors and visitors including friends and family of residents and these people potentially are at risk from anaphylaxis if staff are not adequately trained to recognise and treat anaphylaxis.”
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