In the Spotlight

Be Safe: Alert Others About Your Allergies and Medical Concerns

Contributed by Maureen Layden, MD - Director, VA Medication Reconciliation Initiative

dog tag necklace

"I belong to a Book Club. Every week we meet, share some snacks, and talk passionately about our reading assignment. One meeting, we started to go around the room to introduce ourselves, when we got to Renee, a retired navy nurse, she started to speak and then gulped. Her face turned red and she seemed to be choking. We rushed to her, maybe she needed the Heimlich maneuver?! As she raised her hand to her mouth she said in a wheezy whisper-"my purse, my purse!" It was just then that Jim saw that on her wrist she wore a medical alert bracelet. "She has a nut allergy!" Renee nodded her head frantically and luckily Carol who is also a nurse pulled Renee's allergy medicine out of her purse, an epi-pen and gave it to her. I called 911 and Renee was able to talk to us by the time they got there. She did go to the hospital but left a couple hours later feeling tired, but fine. Jim felt terrible-he had made his special chicken fingers with the secret ingredient in the batter: peanuts. If it wasn't for that medical alert bracelet, we might not have Renee with us." We now know to bring only nut free snacks to our meetings.

medical bracelet

Renee had on a "Medic Alert" or "Medical alert" bracelet. These are used to let people know about a medical problem you may have when you cannot speak for yourself. This helps first responders and emergency response teams help you quickly and efficiently. Many wear them as bracelets, but you can also wear them as necklaces, dog tags, sports bands, and more. It is a good idea to carry a wallet card as well that has more detailed information about your medical concern.

You can personalize your medical alert bracelet to include your name, contact information, and any first aid instructions; in Renee's case it was to give her allergy medicine if she came into contact with nuts and had trouble breathing. Medical personnel are trained to recognize medical alert bracelets. Wear it at all times and make sure your friends, colleagues, and family know how to help you in case of an emergency.

Who should wear them? They are essential for folks with allergies to medications, foods, insects, and other materials like latex. They are also important for people who have medical conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, asthma, dementia, hearing impairment, and on certain medications like insulin and warfarin for example. Some wear them to help any emergency health care team understand their advance directives, for example "Do Not Resuscitate".

If you have any questions about whether you or your loved one needs a medical alert bracelets and how to get one, talk to your health care provider soon. Remember your medical alert bracelet speaks for you when you cannot! Wear them for yourself, for your family and loved ones, it may save your life!

Learn More

Track your own medicationswith My HealtheVet: The VA Blue Button lets registered and authenticated Veteran patients keep their prescription history online, ready to view, update and print out.

Medication Check Up: Medications come from all sorts of places, some you are taking some you are not. It is very important to keep these medications straight. Think of your next visit to your primary care provider as a "Medication Check-up."

Medications Play it Safe: Learn how you play a major role in medication review. Follow a step-by-step guide to Play it Safe with your medications, Get answers to frequently asked questions, and learn what actually happens in a medication review, This is the basic information to take an active role in medication review and learn how to play it safe with your medications.

Medicine Safety: A Toolkit for Families (Learn About Rx Safety) Protect Your Family: Get the Most from Your Medicines


Updated/Reviewed: July 1, 2011