Signs of Anaphylaxis

As many of you may know, food allergy symptoms can appear in a variety of ways. One of the most concerning symptoms of a food allergy is when a person goes into anaphylactic shock. In fact, food allergies are believed to be the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting. The CDC reported that food allergies result in over 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year among children.1 Because this is the most life threatening response to food allergens, we wanted to review what the signs of anaphylaxis look like.

Anaphylaxis – What to Watch For

The signs of anaphylaxis may occur within seconds of exposure, or be delayed 15 to 30 minutes or even an hour or more after exposure (which is most typical of reactions to aspirin and similar drugs). Early symptoms are often related to the skin and include:

  • Difficulty breathing; wheezing
  • Changes in consciousness (including confusion, light-headedness, or stupor)
  • Rapid swelling throughout the body
  • Hives
  • Blue skin
  • Severe abdominal pain, nausea, or diarrhea
  • Flushing (warmth and redness of the skin)
  • Itching (often in the groin or armpits)

Throat and tongue swelling, difficulty swallowing, and difficulty breathing frequently follow the above symptoms. Vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps may also develop.

If you know a child or adult with food allergies and suspect they are having an anaphylactic reaction, the most important consideration is time. Calling 911 or driving the person to the emergency room are the first things that should be done. Also, it is important to have an epinephrine auto-injector on hand for those times.

How You Can Protect Yourself or Others

  • Follow-up with your doctor or allergist if you or your little one had a severe reaction.
  • If you’ve been prescribed self-injectable epinephrine, carry it at all times. (Here’s a great recent post on epinephrine at school)
  • Educate others about your allergy. Teach them what you need to avoid, the symptoms of an allergic reaction, and how they can help during an allergic emergency. (Check out this post I did on being a PAL to a person with food allergies.)
  • Teach yourself and others how to use an epinephrine auto-injector. Practice until it becomes second nature.
  • Wear medical identification jewelry noting your allergy.

Have you or your little ones ever had an anaphylactic reaction? If so, what have you done to help minimize the risk of such a reaction?

Christine Graham-Garo

Published: 09/09/2010
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