Written by: Stephanie Shabangu, Penfield Children’s Center
Reviewed by: Kelsey Sorvick, RN, Penfield Children’s Center
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can happen very suddenly and must be treated immediately. If you feel that your child might be experiencing anaphylaxis, seek medical help right away.
What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause the throat to tighten and the person to have trouble breathing. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, anaphylaxis occurs from an over-release of chemicals that puts the person into shock. The most common causes of anaphylaxis are from food, bug stings or medication allergies.
When an unknown substance enters the body, the immune system produces antibodies. These antibodies help to keep the body safe from viruses and bacteria. However, if your child is allergic to peanuts for example, his immune system might overreact when it comes in contact with a peanut, causing his immune system to set off a chemical chain reaction, thus causing an allergic reaction. In most cases, allergic reactions cause mild symptoms such as a runny nose or itchy eyes. However, an anaphylactic reaction can occur and if your child has experienced anaphylaxis in the past, it can happen again.
In just minutes after a child is exposed to the allergen, anaphylaxis can occur. It can also take a half-hour or more to happen. Some common symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- A feeling like there is a lump in the throat
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble breathing
These symptoms should always be taken seriously, as they can become life-threatening very quickly. Anaphylaxis can also occur in children who have had more mild allergic reactions in the past. If your child experiences a mild reaction, it’s important to have your child tested by a medical professional to diagnose the allergy. If your child is found to have an allergy that could cause anaphylaxis, the doctor will most likely prescribe an Epinephrine Auto-Injector (EpiPen®). This device auto-injects epinephrine into the body. Epinephrine is actually just adrenaline that constricts the blood vessels and causes blood pressure to increase. This helps the lung muscles to relax and allows the person affected to breathe easier.
There ARE steps you can take as a parent or caregiver to take control of anaphylaxis. If you know your child is allergic to something that can cause an anaphylactic reaction, make sure you are educated and prepared.
- Always carry two doses of epinephrine (or two EpiPen injectors) with you. After using an EpiPen, seek follow-up care from a medical professional.
- Educate yourself and others who come in contact with your child about his allergy. For example, when dining out, make wait staff aware of your child’s allergy before ordering a meal.
- Avoid the allergen that triggers your child. If your child has a food or medication allergy, always read labels. With insect sting allergies, try not to walk barefoot in the grass or drink from an open soda can.
- Seek the advice of a specialist. While your child’s pediatrician can definitely diagnose and prescribe treatment for anaphylaxis, an allergist might offer additional information and resources that can help shed light on the history of the allergy.
While an anaphylactic reaction can be scary, there are steps you can take to help manage the reaction and help your child lead a safe and fun life. As with any allergy or condition, this does not have to define your child, but it’s helpful to teach your child and those he comes in contact with about anaphylaxis and how to maintain safety.
If your child has had an allergic reaction, how have you helped keep him/her safe and reduce the chance of possible anaphylaxis?