General Anaphylaxis (Child)

Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction to an allergen. An allergen is a substance that causes an allergy. Allergens cause the body to release chemicals. One of these chemicals is called histamine.

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening medical emergency. This reaction may happen within minutes of exposure to an allergen. Or it may happen after an hour or more. Your child may not even be aware that they came into contact with the allergen.

Death can occur in anaphylaxis due to a severe drop in blood pressure, or swelling in the throat or lungs that can stop a child from breathing. Use epinephrine medicine on your child if you have it. Then call 911 right away.

A severe allergic reaction can cause the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Symptoms can include:

  • Wheezing, cough, or trouble breathing

  • Chest tightness

  • Change in level of alertness or unconsciousness

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Hoarse voice, trouble swallowing or 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, or stomach cramps or pain

  • Fast, weak, or irregular heartbeat

  • Low blood pressure

  • A feeling of anxiety

  • Seizure

  • Hives, rash, or itchy skin

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 a latex allergy also have problems with foods like bananas, avocados, kiwi, papaya, or chestnuts.

In children, anaphylaxis can be caused by many things, including milk or soy in baby formula. It 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 (eczema), or other allergies.

Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical care. 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) line. 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. This is to make sure that symptoms don’t return. It's important to learn what caused the allergic reaction. Then your child can stay away from that allergen. 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 child's weight. Ask the provider 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, call 911 right away. Your child needs to be watched closely in the emergency room. This is to make sure that the symptoms of the allergic reaction don't return or get worse.

General care

  • Try to find and help your child stay away from 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.

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

  • Tell your child’s school about any allergies. Discuss and plan your child’s access to epinephrine in case of an emergency. This includes where it will be kept and who will administer it. It also includes who will be a backup if the person isn't there.

  • If your child’s 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 to something they've 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 right away:

  • Trouble breathing, talking, or swallowing, or drooling

  • Any change in level of alertness or unconsciousness

  • Feeling lightheaded or confused

  • Severe nausea, vomiting, belly pain, 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 provider right away if your child has any of these:

  • Hives that feel uncomfortable

  • Hives for the first time

  • Symptoms don't go away or they come back

  • Symptoms get worse or new symptoms occur, such as: 

    • Sneezing, coughing, or runny or stuffy nose

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

    • Itching, burning, stinging, or painful skin

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