Julie Bowen is best known for her comedic turn on the hit ABC show Modern Family, but this fall, she’s also taking center stage for a serious reason: Recently, the two-time Emmy-winning actress has been speaking up about anaphylaxis, a life-threatening type of allergic reaction. After Bowen discovered that her 5-year-old son had the condition, she partnered with Mylan Specialty L.P. to raise awareness through the Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis initiative. We recently caught up with actress to ask her what every parent should know about these allergic reactions.
How did you first find out that your son has anaphylaxis?
We didn’t know that our son had life-threatening allergies until he experienced anaphylaxis after having peanut butter—it wasn’t the first time he had peanut butter—and was simultaneously stung by a bee. Within moments his face swelled in a way that you couldn’t mistake that something bad was happening. We rushed him to the hospital where he was treated. Because of this, we had him tested and learned that he is allergic to both peanuts and bee stings! It was absolutely really scary. But in a way it was a good thing—we were there and able to respond. We now have a plan in place to help him avoid his allergens and we make sure those around him are prepared to respond if he does experience anaphylaxis again.
What did his symptoms look like? Did you know what was happening?
In our case, I was at work and my husband emailed me a picture of our son—clearly something was wrong. My son’s face had swelled dramatically. We took him to the hospital, where he was treated with epinephrine. Thankfully, he’s okay, but I have to tell you it was a real wake-up call that we needed to learn more about life-threatening allergies and anaphylaxis.
What is he allergic to?
We had him tested and know that he has life-threatening allergies to peanuts, walnuts and bee stings. We are careful to avoid exposure to these things, but you have to always be prepared because anaphylaxis can happen anywhere and at any time.
How much did you know about anaphylaxis before your son was diagnosed?
Not enough! You know, you think okay, I went to college and I’m educated—but I didn’t really know about anaphylaxis. I’m telling my story because I hope it helps other parents and people who take care of kids be aware of anaphylaxis and prepared to respond if they believe someone is experiencing anaphylaxis.
How do you control anaphylaxis?
If you know someone is at risk for life-threatening allergic reactions the most important thing is to help them avoid their allergic triggers. We’ve taught my son to be his own best advocate—he knows not to eat a new food without asking if there are nuts in it. We inform adults who may be responsible for him that he has life-threatening allergies. We also carry epinephrine auto-injectors with us at all times.
Do you ever worry that something will happen to him when he’s at school all day long?
That’s a great question and an issue I think about a lot. This is exactly why I joined Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis—because I think everyone, especially people in the school community, need to start talking about this issue. As my son gets older, I can’t be with him all the time, protecting him. So, I need to know that when I can’t be with him, the people watching over him at school or in our community know how to help him avoid his allergic triggers, understand what anaphylaxis is, what it looks like, and how to respond when it occurs. We all have a role to play in helping to create a safe environment for kids.
What do you want parents—and the public in general—to know about anaphylaxis?
I want everyone to go to www.Anaphylaxis101.com to learn more about life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) and to find out about campaign events happening all across the country. To help people get involved in making a change in anaphylaxis awareness and preparedness, there is a scholarship competition called the "Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis Challenge." Students in grades 1-12 can visit the website and submit an essay and up to two images with an original idea about how to raise awareness of anaphylaxis in their school. Fifteen children will win $2,000 college scholarships. Enter before November 9!
Thanks for talking with us, and congrats on the Emmy!
Maria Masters is associate health editor at Family Circle.