Few airlines stock first-aid kits with pediatric versions of therapies that would help children dealing with medical emergencies, researchers report.

In a new study of children’s medical emergencies on planes, researchers found that most incidents involve common ailments such as vomiting, fever, or allergic reactions—events that should be easily treated.

“Children represent almost 16% of emergency medical events on airlines, so these incidences are not rare,” says lead author Alexandre Rotta, chief of the pediatric critical care medicine division at the School of Medicine at Duke University.

“Both airlines and parents should be aware of the most common illnesses and be prepared to deal with them,” he says. “Our study provides this much-needed information.”

Kids’ airplane medical emergencies

The study is a first-ever detailing of more than 11,000 instances on 77 international airlines in which children required emergency medical attention, covering a period between January 2015 and October 2016.

Flight crew members handled most of the incidents involving children (86.6%), but in nearly 9% of cases, doctors who were on board as passengers were asked to lend their assistance. About 16% of total cases resulted in a child needing additional care upon landing, and only 0.5% of flights diverted to a nearby airport to get immediate care.

The most common medical events among children were the same conditions that drive pediatric emergency room visits, including nausea and vomiting (33.9%), fever or chills (22.2%), acute allergic reaction (5.5%), abdominal pain (4.7%), and stomach flu (4.5%).

But unless parents had stocked their carry-on bags with therapies, the likelihood was slim that the airline would have a remedy on hand that was appropriate for a child. The Federal Aviation Administration requires US airlines to have well-stocked first-aid kits that include asthma inhalers, antihistamines, and aspirin. But the medications are in pill form, which many youngsters can’t swallow, and/or in adult dosages.

Making airplane first-aid kits better

In 2018, Congress passed a law directing the FAA to assess whether on-board first-aid kits have the minimum contents to meet the needs of children.

Rotta, who is a pilot and has frequently assisted children and adults during in-flight emergencies, says the research team’s analysis should provide a shopping list for stocking airline first-aid kits.

“This is needed information to help inform discussion and policies affecting children on airlines and what should be included in the on-board medical kits,” Rotta says.

“But for right now, if you are a parent traveling with a child, we recommend you carry on the medications you think your child might need.”

Source: Duke University

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