Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Food Allergy Review: What Does a Severe Allergic Reaction Look Like?

The question that makes parents of severely food-allergic kids lose the most sleep: how will they know when their child is experiencing what could be a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction.

Note: STOP right here if you are reading this because you believe that your child is experiencing a severe reaction. Step away from the computer and follow your doctor's emergency instructions (such as administering an epinephrine auto-injector and calling 911. )

OK--so back to the question. This is a wonderful thing to discuss with your doctor because symptoms vary depending on the person. If your child has experienced only "mild" reactions in the past, be sure to get very clear details from your allergist about what to look for.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has some guidelines to follow that I included in a recent article I wrote for Chicago Baby magazine. Here is the list I included in the sidebar of that story:

Symptoms of a food allergy
If you see the following symptoms, it may indicate a food allergy reaction. If several areas of the body are affected, the reaction may be severe or even life-threatening. Called anaphylaxis, it requires immediate medical attention.
Skin problems
Hives (red spots that look like mosquito bites)
Itchy skin rashes (eczema, also called atopic dermatitis)
Breathing problems
Throat tightness
Stomach symptoms
Circulation symptoms
Pale skin
Loss of consciousness (looking very sleepy, weak or drowsy counts)
Source: The American Academy of Pediatrics

A epinephrine autoinjector is your friend so don't hesitate to use it. Parents are afraid that they will use it at the "wrong" time but there is no wrong time. This question is worth a call to the allergist--don't wait for the next appointment.

It's so important to be ready for emergencies. FAAN has a wonderful Food Allergy Emergency Action Plan (FREE download) that your doctor can fill out for you. Keep them at school, at home and share this document with caregivers and friends.


Peanut Free Zone said...

I've recently read several articles where parents didn't know their child had an allergy until they had a severe allergic reaction. EVERYONE needs to know what an allergic reaction looks like and what to do in an emergency. Thanks for writing this article!

We also have a free allergy action plan at - along with products to help increase peanut allergy safety and awareness.

Anonymous said...

This is so important for parents to read. Sharing with all my friends who have children with food allergies (and those who have kids on the way). I struggled at first with what constituted a reaction and what didn't after that first reaction. I made an appointment with my son's allergist; it was following a visit to a bird store where we suddenly realized there were peanut shells e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e on the floor and in the bottom of cages, and my son started to have an eczema flare up on his face and neck. He sneezed twice as well so I called the allergist office and asked "do I administer the EpiPen now?" He and I talked over the symptoms and I went to see him the following day to make an action plan of sorts. You can never be too careful - always use the Epi if in doubt - but it was also helpful to me to understand the difference between a mild reaction that is getting worse and how to step in and treat it, and a one that is mild and stays mild. Each parent must talk to their allergist until they feel comfortable knowing how to gauge severity of symptoms, and like this article says, always Epi if unsure because it will, for most kids, do hamr at all if you're wrong and it wasn't indeed needed (but it can save a life if it is).