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Anaphylaxis in Children

What is anaphylaxis in children?

Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening reaction to an allergen. An allergen is something that your child is allergic to. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. Your child can have a reaction to an allergen within seconds or as long as an hour after contact.

What causes anaphylaxis in a child?

Anaphylaxis happens when a child comes in contact with an allergen. The kind of allergen may be different for every child. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Foods

  • Bee stings

  • Medicines

  • Dyes used for medical tests

  • Allergy shots

  • Latex

Which children are at risk for anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis can happen in people without known risk factors. But the risk is greater if your child has:

  • Allergies

  • Asthma

  • A family history of anaphylaxis

  • Had anaphylaxis before

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis in a child?

Symptoms most often appear quickly. Anaphylaxis may happen in seconds, minutes, or hours after being exposed to an allergen. Symptoms may include:

  • Tightness or swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or uvula. The uvula is the small, soft pendulum that hangs down in the back of your child's throat.

  • Wheezing or trouble breathing

  • Uneasy feeling or agitation, a feeling of impending doom

  • Widespread hives

  • Severe itching of the skin

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Stomach pain

  • Heart failure

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Lowered blood pressure

  • Loss of bladder control

  • Dizziness or fainting

The symptoms of anaphylaxis may look like other health problems. Always talk with your child’s healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is anaphylaxis diagnosed in a child?

A healthcare provider can often diagnose anaphylaxis based on a health history alone. The healthcare provider will look at the following to make a diagnosis:

  • Any known allergies

  • Exposure to known or possible allergens

  • Description of symptoms

  • Physical exam, including blood pressure

  • Blood test results, in some cases

How is anaphylaxis treated in a child?

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that needs to be treated right away. Your child will get a dose or shot of epinephrine through an autoinjector. This will help stop the bad reaction caused by the allergen. A dose of epinephrine should be given right after the exposure. Epinephrine can help stop or reverse the allergic reaction.

Always keep 2 epinephrine autoinjectors with your child. Sometimes your child will need 2 doses of epinephrine for more severe anaphylactic reactions. Five to 15 minutes after the first dose, your child may need a second dose of epinephrine. This is needed if their symptoms are worse or not getting better. Talk with your child's provider about when to use an epinephrine autoinjector and when your child needs a second dose. The provider or their staff can teach you how to use an epinephrine autoinjector.

After treatment with epinephrine, call 911 or take your child to the nearest emergency department. Your child's provider may have other instructions on what to do. Always give empty epinephrine autoinjectors to the healthcare staff. Your child will need to be watched to make sure that they are not having any further reactions. This is because allergic reactions can sometimes return.

What can I do to prevent anaphylaxis in my child?

The best way to prevent anaphylaxis is to have your child stay away from known allergy triggers or allergens. For a bee sting allergy (venom allergy), there is treatment available to help prevent future allergic reactions. Talk with your child's healthcare provider about this treatment.

How can I help my child live with anaphylaxis?

If your child has anaphylaxis, you will want to cut the risk of future episodes. You can do this by figuring out the allergen that triggered the first episode. Then you can stay away from the trigger. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe an epinephrine autoinjector. They will teach you how to use it. You can give your child a dose or shot quickly if they have an anaphylactic reaction.

Key points about anaphylaxis in a child

  • Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening reaction to an allergen.

  • Anaphylaxis is caused by allergies to things such as foods, medicines, bee stings, allergy shots, and latex.

  • Symptoms of anaphylaxis include tightness or swelling of the throat, tongue, or uvula. Also, trouble breathing, hives, itching, nausea and vomiting, irregular heartbeat, and loss of bladder control.

  • Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. Treatment will likely include a shot of epinephrine.

  • The best way to prevent anaphylaxis is to stay away from known allergy triggers.

  • If your child has had anaphylaxis, you may be prescribed an epinephrine autoinjector. Keep 2 epinephrine autoinjectors with your child at all times in case of a future event.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Allen J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2020
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