Severe Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis)

People with severe allergies can be at risk for a sudden, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. When treated properly, anaphylaxis can be managed.

Anaphylaxis is not common, but some people with allergies are more at risk for it. So if your child has severe allergies, it is important to know about it and have a plan.

If your child shows signs of a serious allergic reaction, call 911 or seek immediate medical care at a hospital emergency department. 

Signs of Anaphylaxis

The most common signs that someone might have anaphylaxis after exposure to an allergen are:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the throat or feeling like the throat or airways are closing
  • Hoarseness or trouble speaking
  • Wheezing
  • Stuffy nose or coughing
  • Nausea, stomach pain or vomiting
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Skin itching, tingling, redness or swelling

Anaphylaxis requires immediate treatment. It can get worse very quickly. People with life-threatening allergies often carry a medication called epinephrine.

Epinephrine enters the bloodstream and works quickly against serious allergy symptoms. For example, it decreases swelling and raises blood pressure. It is given as an injection. 

If your child has been diagnosed with severe allergies to insect bites/stings, foods, or medications, he should have an epinephrine autoinjector with him at all times. Talk to your child’s doctor about getting a food allergy action plan.

Epinephrine Pen teaching sheet (En Español)

What to Do

If your child has a known allergy and carries epinephrine, take these steps:

Step 1: Give him epinephrine right away. If you are alone with your child, administer this medication first, then call 911. If you are not alone with your child, have someone else call 911 while you administer the medication.

Step 2: Call 911 or get to the nearest emergency department, even if your child seems better. Sometimes a child has a second wave of symptoms (called a biphasic reaction). The hospital will observe your child for at least four hours to be sure he is okay and provide additional treatment, if needed.

Also, make sure that any caregivers, teachers, or coaches know about the allergy and what to do in an emergency.