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Allergic Reaction, Severe

(Anaphylactic Reaction)

What is a severe allergic reaction?

A severe allergic reaction is called an anaphylactic reaction. It is an immediate, severe reaction to a bee sting, drug, food, or other item. The symptoms begin within 30 to 60 minutes and are:

  • wheezing, croupy cough, or difficulty breathing
  • tightness in the chest or throat
  • dizziness or passing out
  • widespread hives, swelling, or itching. (If these symptoms occur without the symptoms listed above, your child is probably not having an anaphylactic reaction. However, hives, swelling, or itching often occur with other serious symptoms when a child has a severe allergic reaction.)

What should I do if my child has a severe allergic reaction?

  1. Call 911 IMMEDIATELY

    Call the rescue squad (911) if your child is having difficulty breathing or passes out. Have your child lie down with the feet elevated to prevent shock.

  2. Give epinephrine

    If you have an anaphylactic kit (Epi-Pen or Ana-Kit), give your child a shot of epinephrine (adrenaline) immediately. It can save your child's life. Inject it into the muscle or fat layer of the outer part of the upper thigh.

    Don't hesitate to give epinephrine. If there is any possibility your child is having symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, give the epinephrine immediately. In addition, if your child had a life-threatening reaction in the past and now has been re-exposed to the same allergic substance (for example, food, or bee sting), give the epinephrine BEFORE your child develops symptoms. Epinephrine will not hurt your child even if he is not having an allergic reaction and it could save his or her life.

  3. Give an antihistamine

    If you have Benadryl at home, give it. If not, check if you have another antihistamine or cold medicine that has an antihistamine in it. If you do, give one dose immediately in addition to the shot of epinephrine.

  4. Treat stings

    If a bee stinger is left in the skin, remove it. Do this by scraping the stinger off with a knife blade or credit card rather than by squeezing it. Then apply an ice cube to the site or a cotton ball soaked in a solution of meat tenderizer and water. Don't use meat tenderizer near the eye.

What can I do to prevent an allergic reaction?

Children with anaphylactic reactions need to be evaluated by an allergist. Since the reactions can be fatal, you should keep emergency kits containing epinephrine at home, school, and in a backpack (or fanny pack). You will need a prescription.

Also, your child should have a medical ID necklace or bracelet that tells the insect, drug, or food allergy. Some ID necklaces and bracelets can be found in pharmacies.

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

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