Allergic reaction: severe | Health, Medicine and Health

Peter Jarrato

What is anaphylactic shock?

Anaphylactic shock, or anaphylaxis, is one of the scariest health emergencies a parent can face; This is when your child has a severe allergic reaction. When this happens, your child’s immune system mistakenly reacts to a harmless substance as if it were a serious threat, triggering the release of histamine and other body chemicals that cause rapid and sometimes fatal symptoms. produce, including:

  • hives and swelling of the skin, lips, or face
  • wheezing or severe breathing problems
  • tightness in the throat or feeling that the throat is closing
  • rapid pulse
  • to sweat
  • dizziness, fainting, loss of consciousness
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea
  • rapid loss of blood pressure
  • very pale skin

A variety of irritants can cause anaphylaxis in susceptible people, including these common triggers:

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  • Foods such as eggs, seafood, nuts, cereals, milk and peanuts
  • penicillin-like drugs
  • insect bite or sting
  • injection anesthetics
  • Colors used in diagnostic X-rays or scans
  • Latex and other industrial substances

What should I do if my child suddenly goes into anaphylactic shock?

If your child is having trouble breathing or dies, call 911 immediately. Have your child lie down with their legs elevated to reduce the risk of shock. If a bee has stung it, remove the sting quickly by stinging it with your fingernail, knife, or a sharp edge.

If you have an anaphylactic kit, give your child an injection of epinephrine right away. (It is best to give the shot in the thick layer of the outer part of the upper thigh.) Even if you are not sure if the reaction is anaphylaxis, give the shot – it could save your baby’s life.

If you do not have an anaphylactic kit but do have Benadryl, give it to your child. If not, give her an antihistamine or cold medicine that contains an antihistamine. These help slow down the runaway immune response.

Even if your child recovers quickly and seems normal, you should still take him to the emergency room. The doctors there will probably want to keep her under observation for a few hours to make sure she doesn’t experience a second wave of symptoms.

Can anaphylactic reactions be prevented?

The best prevention is to avoid substances that cause severe allergies. If your child is allergic to certain foods, it’s important to ask at restaurants or friends’ homes to see if the food contains any allergy-causing ingredients. If insect bites or stings cause trouble, help your child find a place to play that is bug-free.

Once your child has had a severe allergic reaction, your pediatrician may recommend that you keep an anaphylactic kit handy at all times. The most common kit, called an Epi-Pen, contains a preloaded syringe of epinephrine in a pen-like device that is easy to inject. The Epi-Pen is available by prescription only (and some states do not allow non-medical professionals to inject epinephrine). It’s wise to keep a spare kit in your purse, pocket, and glove compartment of your car, as allergies can happen anywhere and anytime.

Finally, once your child has had a severe reaction such as anaphylaxis, it’s important to wear a medical-alert ID necklace or bracelet (available at most pharmacies) that will alert healthcare providers in case of an emergency.

Robert H. Pantell MD, James F. Fries MD, Donald M. Vickery MD, Taking Care of Your Child: A Parent’s Illustrated Guide to Complete Medical Care. Da Capo Lifetime Books.

Severe Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis) Nemours Foundation.,

American Academy of Pediatrics,, Anaphylaxis.

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