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Allergic Reaction: What to Do in Emergency

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 22 Dec 2010 |
 
Allergies Emergency Anaphylaxic Children

The immune system protects people from infection by reacting against harmful things like viruses and bacteria. Allergic reactions happen when the immune system makes a mistake and reacts against something harmless, such as peanuts, grass pollen or animal fur. An allergic reaction, even a mild one, can come on very quickly and can appear to be quite frightening.

If you have a child with allergies, or if you look after children, it’s important to know beforehand what to do in an emergency. If in doubt with mild symptoms, go to see a pharmacist, and if the symptoms are moderate, it would be a good idea to see a doctor. If the symptoms are severe, for example if the child is having problems breathing, or passes out, call for an ambulance immediately.

Preparations

Make sure that anyone caring for a child with an allergy knows what the child is allergic to and knows what to avoid, as well as knowing what the symptoms are, and what to do if he or she has an allergic reaction. For a younger child, make up a pack with medication and notes, and for older children, make sure that they have everything they need.

Mild Allergic Reaction

Even mild allergic reactions can come on very quickly, and can look quite frightening. Keep calm, and keep the child calm, as getting anxious can just make the symptoms seem worse. Stop any other children crowding around. Sit the child down and give a dose of his or her usual allergy medications, and watch to see if the symptoms improve. If the allergic reaction is causing asthma symptoms, get the child to use his or her inhaler.

Allergic rashes should respond fairly quickly to an antihistamine or mild hydrocortisone cream. A cool compress, such as a damp facecloth or ice wrapped in a towel can help reduce the itching and redness. This can also help with red and itchy eyes

A pharmacist will be able to offer advice about the best over the counter medication for an allergic reaction – when describing the symptoms, don’t forget to say that it is for a child.

Severe Allergic Reaction

A severe allergic reaction, known as an anaphylactic reaction or anaphylactic shock, can come on very quickly, even within a few minutes of exposure to the allergen (the food or other substance that causes the allergy).

Symptoms include hives (a skin reaction that looks like nettle rash) and itching, flushing of the skin, swelling of the mouth and throat, overall swelling, problems with breathing, stomach pain with diarrhoea and vomiting, and a drop in blood pressure that can lead to confusion, fainting, dizziness or feelings of anxiety.

In a severe allergic reaction, call for an ambulance straight away. Check airway, breathing and circulation (remember ABC), and lie the child down with his or her feet slightly raised. If you don’t know the child, check for any medical ID or medical tags that might have information about allergies. Offer help with medications – the child may have an emergency injector to help with the severe reaction.

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