Anaphylaxis (Severe Allergic Reaction)

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Food Allergy Awareness Kit

Anaphylaxis (Severe Allergic Reaction)

Nearly one in 50 people in the United States are at risk for anaphylaxis.1

Some children are allergic to certain foods, medicines, insect bites and stings, and latex. When they come into contact with these things they develop symptoms, such as hives and shortness of breath. This is known as an allergic reaction. Things that cause an allergic reaction are called allergens. Allergic symptoms can lead to a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis [anna-fih-LACK-sis]. Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis.

Be Aware of Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

Each allergic reaction can be different from another. Sometimes allergy symptoms are mild. Other times, symptoms can be severe and result in a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening if not treated right away. Anaphylaxis can involve one or more systems of the body, such as skin, respiratory tract, gut, and cardiovascular system. Every symptom that occurs due to allergy can also occur from other causes, and it is important to talk about ways to tell these apart with your child’s allergist.

Signs and Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

Symptoms of anaphylaxis usually involve more than one part of the body such as the skin, mouth, eyes, lungs, heart, gut, and brain. Some symptoms include:

  • Skin rashes, itching, and hives
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • Shortness of breath, trouble breathing, wheezing (whistling sound during breathing)
  • Stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Feeling like something awful is about to happen

Your child’s doctor will give you a complete list of symptoms. This list of symptoms will also be on your written Anaphylaxis Action Plan.

Food Allergy Anaphylaxis in Infants and Toddlers

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and its Kids with Food Allergies (KFA) division partnered with leading food allergy researchers to better understand how parents (and primary caregivers) of young children recognize the signs of allergic reactions and treat them. Results from AAFA’s Infants and Toddlers with Anaphylaxis (ITA) study have been published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.


Be Prepared for Anaphylaxis

Work with your child’s health care team on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis and how to treat it. Here are some ways you can be prepared for a severe allergic reaction:

  • Have a written Anaphylaxis Action Plan. Your child’s doctor will give you this step-by-step plan on what to do in an emergency.
  • Learn how to give your child epinephrine. It’s the only medicine that treats anaphylaxis.
  • Epinephrine is safe and comes in easy-to-use options. The most common is an auto-injector. It injects a single dose of medicine when you press it against your child’s outer middle thigh. It works quickly to stop serious symptoms.
  • Always have epinephrine with your child.
  • Teach people who spend time with your child how to recognize anaphylaxis and use epinephrine.
  • Have your child wear a medical alert bracelet to let other people know of their allergy.

Know How to Treat Anaphylaxis

1. Follow the steps in your child’s Anaphylaxis Action Plan to give your child epinephrine as soon as you notice symptoms or if they eat a known food allergen. The sooner you give epinephrine, the better chance you have of stopping the allergic reaction. Injections of epinephrine go into the outer middle thigh.

2. After giving epinephrine, symptoms should start to get better quickly. If after 5 minutes, symptoms do not get better, use a second dose of epinephrine.

3. Seek emergency medical care if symptoms do not improve. (Call 911 or a local ambulance service.) Doctors used to recommend taking your child to the emergency department after giving epinephrine. But there are new approaches to managing anaphylaxis.

4. Most children start to feel better within minutes. Talk about options with your child’s allergist to fully understand when it is OK to stay at home or when to go to the emergency room after giving epinephrine. Each child is different. You may have a plan that is different from someone else you know.

5. Contact your allergist or primary care doctor within 24 hours of a severe allergic reaction, even if you received emergency care.

Take Steps to Prevent Allergic Reactions

The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to have your child avoid eating their food allergen. Small amounts of an allergen may cause a reaction.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Learn how to read food labels. Read the label every time you buy a product, even if you’ve used that product before. Food ingredients may change.
  • Label foods in your home as “safe” or “not safe” or store them separately.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before handling safe food or after handling unsafe food.
  • Wash pans, utensils, and dishes in hot, sudsy water before using them to prepare food.
  • Prepare and serve allergy-safe food with separate, clean utensils, and surfaces.
  • Ask about ingredients in foods that other people make for your child.
  • If the food does not have a label or if you cannot confirm the ingredients, don’t let your child eat it.
  • Educate family friends, school staff, and other caregivers about your child’s allergies.
  • Teach your child how to manage their food allergies. Also teach your child how and when to use epinephrine when they are old enough and to tell an adult if they are having an allergic reaction.
  • Focus on the foods your child can have, not what they can’t have.

Anaphylaxis Action Plans

You can download an Anaphylaxis Action Plan from the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Download PDF

Food Allergy Fact

Symptoms of anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) usually involve more than one part of the body.

Medical review: Content from “Managing Your Child’s Food Allergies” which was reviewed September 2023 by David Stukus, MD​

  1. Wood RA, Camargo CA Jr, Lieberman P, Sampson HA, Schwartz LB, Zitt M, Collins C, Tringale M, Wilkinson M, Boyle J, Simons FE. Anaphylaxis in America: the prevalence and characteristics of anaphylaxis in the United States. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2014 Feb;133(2):461-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2013.08.016. Epub 2013 Oct 18. PMID: 24144575.
Severe Allergic reaction

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