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Julie Bowen

Gets Serious about Anaphylaxis Awareness

by Jessica Webb

Allergy image

Emmy award-winning actress Julie Bowen keeps us laughing weekly as Claire Dunphy, the strong-willed but caring matriarch on ABC’s hit comedy Modern Family. But when her oldest son, Oliver, experienced anaphylaxis (a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction) after exposure to pea­nut butter and a simultaneous bee sting, this real-life mother of three learned that allergies are no joke.

Though Oliver, a toddler at the time, had tried peanut butter before with no issues, after this particular exposure, paired with the bee sting, he experienced an anaphylactic reaction. His face swelled up immediately, and it was clear some­thing was wrong. Julie’s family was lucky; sometimes the signs of anaphylaxis are less apparent. Here, in an interview with Coping® magazine, Julie shares her fam­ily’s story and stresses the importance of recognizing and being prepared for an anaphylactic reaction.

How did you react when you found out that Oliver had an anaphylactic reaction?
I was very frightened. My husband was on the phone with me while they were in the emergency room, and the minute Oliver had the epinephrine injected, he was better. It was immediate, so there was no doubt that this was an anaphy­lactic reaction. I had heard stories about this, but I just thought allergies were a “helicopter mom’s” problem. I thought, “Oh, my kids are healthy and strong; that’s not going to happen.” And my other two kids don’t have any allergies.

What daily precautions does your family now take to ensure Oliver’s safety?
We keep an epinephrine auto injector with us at all times, and he has one at his school. If he goes off on a play date, we put one in his backpack. I like la­beling, so I put on a label that says “medicine here.”

We want him to live a healthy, normal, athletic life where he can run around outside and not feel limited.

Have you had to make any major lifestyle changes?
I have to wash my hands after handling certain nuts, but I try not to have those in the house. And we don’t live in a bee-free world, so we just have to be careful and make sure we have his epinephrine auto injector with us and make sure it’s up to date. We want him to live a healthy, normal, athletic life where he can run around outside and not feel limited.

Do you worry about him attend­ing school?
Luckily, his school is very aware of potential life-threatening allergic reac­tions. His preschool is nut free to begin with, but the world isn’t bumblebee free. It’s important that the caregivers, teachers, and coaches – the people who are around kids a lot – know the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis. Unlike what happened to my child, which was very dramatic and sudden, it can be more subtle, and we need the people who are watching out for our kids to know what’s going on.

Does Oliver understand how serious anaphylaxis is?
He does. We don’t try to scare him with it. We just want him to be aware of it and understand that we know how to treat and avoid it. He has become his own best advocate. Any time there is a new food introduced to him, he always asks what’s in it, especially with cereal bars, cookies, muffins, and cakes – things that nuts are frequently put into. We are always looking out for him, but especially at a birthday party or something like that. It’s im­portant to ask and to check.

What message do you have for parents of children with potentially life-threatening allergies?
It can be frustrating, but with some simple precautions, it certainly isn’t impossible to live with a child who has these allergies. Know what medications your child needs, and don’t introduce a new food to your kid when you are off on a tropical island, away from any kind of medical help. If you suspect that your child has an allergy, you should go see your doctor immediately and discuss it with him. I’m not a doctor; I don’t even play a doctor. All I am is a con­cerned mom who had a bad experience and found out the proper way to treat my child.


Julie Bowen has joined with Mylan Specialty L.P. to launch Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis™, a health initiative aiming to increase aware­ness of and preparedness for life-threatening allergic reactions. “Anaphylaxis is a long, crazy word, and a lot of kids don’t know it or how to say it, but it doesn’t have to be scary,” Julie says. “We want to make sure that peo­ple are educated, aware, and know how to treat it and how to avoid their allergic triggers.” Learn more at

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2012-2013.