General Anaphylaxis (Child)

Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction to an allergen. Symptoms can include swollen areas of the body, wheezing, trouble breathing or swallowing, severe vomiting, diarrhea, a hoarse voice, and weakness or loss of consciousness. This reaction may happen within minutes of exposure to an allergen, or it may happen after an hour or more.

Anaphylaxis is a life threatening medical emergency. Death can occur in anaphylaxis due to a severe drop in blood pressure, or swelling in the throat or lungs which can stop a child from breathing. Use epinephrine medicine on your child if you have it. Then call 911 .

An allergen is a substance that causes an allergy. Allergens cause the body to release chemicals. One of these chemicals is called histamine. A severe allergic reaction can cause the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Symptoms can include:

  • Wheezing or trouble breathing

  • Change in level of alertness or unconsciousness

  • Hoarse voice or trouble talking or feeling like your throat is closing

  • Cool, moist, or pale (blue in color) skin

  • Swollen eyelids, lips, tongue, hands, feet, or genitals

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps or pain

  • Fast, weak, or irregular heartbeat

  • Seizure

Almost anything can cause mild allergy symptoms. Common causes of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) include: 

  • Foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk products, wheat, eggs

  • Insect bites or stings such as bees, wasps, hornets, or yellow jackets

  • Medicines such as penicillin, sulfa drugs, , aspirin, ibuprofen—any medicine can cause a reaction

  • Latex such as in gloves, clothes, toys, balloons, or some tapes (some children with latex allergy also have problems with foods like bananas, avocados, kiwi, papaya, or chestnuts)

These symptoms may occur within seconds or minutes after exposure to the allergen. Or it may take a few hours to develop. Your child may not even be aware that he or she came into contact with the allergen.

In children, anaphylaxis can be caused by many things including milk or soy in baby formula. Anaphylaxis can occur even if a child has never had an allergic reaction before or when the food or medicine has never been taken before. It tends to occur most often in children who have asthma, atopic dermatitis, or other allergies.

Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention . Your child's healthcare providers first make sure that your child is breathing normally and has a steady heart rate. A child with a mild reaction may respond right away to medicine given by an injection in the muscle or through an IV (intravenous). A child with a more severe reaction may need a tube to help with breathing for a short time. Your child may be watched closely in a hospital to make sure that symptoms don’t return. It's important to learn what caused the allergic reaction so that allergen can be avoided in the future. Children sometimes outgrow food allergies.

Home care

Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe an epinephrine auto injector kit. The type of kit is based on the weight of a child. Make sure you understand when and how to give this medicine to your child. Epinephrine can help stop an allergic reaction from getting worse. But it may not be enough, and its effect will wear off. Even if you have an injector pen and use it, your child needs to be monitored in the emergency room to make sure that the symptoms of the allergic reaction do not return or worsen.

General care

  • Try to identify and help your child avoid the problem allergen. Future reactions may be worse.

  • Carry a medical alert card with you at all times. This card should identify your child’s allergy. An older child should wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.

  • Keep a record of your child’s symptoms. Note when they occurred, and what caused them. This will help your child’s healthcare provider decide future care.

  • Talk with anyone who cares for your child. Tell that person about your child’s allergy. Explain the signs of a reaction. Instruct the person how to use any prescribed medicine including epinephrine auto injectors.

  • If your child’s healthcare provider prescribes epinephrine, keep it with your child at all times.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

Special note to parents

Know that children can have a severe reaction to something that they never reacted to in the past or have never eaten or taken before. Allergy testing is needed to confirm your child's allergy. Your child may be referred to an allergist.

Call 911

If your child has any of these symptoms, use an epinephrine auto injector (if available), and call 911:

  • Trouble breathing, talking, or swallowing, or drooling

  • Any change in level of alertness or unconsciousness

  • Feeling lightheaded or confused

  • Severe nausea. vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Cool, moist or pale (blue in color) skin

  • Fast, weak heartbeat

  • Wheezing or shortness of breath

  • Swelling of the face, tongue, or lips

  • Seizures

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away or seek medical attention right away if:

  • Your child's hives feel uncomfortable

  • Your child has never had hives before

  • Your child's symptoms don't go away or come back

  • Your child's symptoms get worse or new symptoms develop, such as: 

    • Sneezing, coughing, runny or stuffy nose

    • Itching of the eyes, nose or roof of the mouth

    • Itching, burning, stinging, or painful skin

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