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Emergency Treatment for Reactions to Food Allergens

Serious (anaphylactic) reactions are life threatening. They can happen in both children and adults. Most acute reactions to food allergens in children lead to hives (red, raised itchy areas of the skin), vomiting, and occasionally respiratory symptoms. Acute reactions occur suddenly and are the most common presentation. There are a few cases of delayed reactions that can occur a few hours after the exposure.

Symptoms/Treatment for a Less Severe Reaction

Usually limited to the skin in the form of hives and/or itching.
  • An antihistamine (Benadryl®, for example) should be given as soon as possible to prevent more severe symptoms.
  • Limit child’s activity. An adult should observe the child for up to one hour. This is when more serious reactions usually occur.

Symptoms of a More Serious Reaction (Anaphylaxis)

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can involve the lungs, gastrointestinal tract or cardiovascular system.

Respiratory Symptoms

  • Wheezing
  • Persistent coughing
  • Tightening in the throat or chest
  • Difficulty breathing

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Thick tongue
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Cardiovasular symptoms

  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Weak and fast pulse (These are signs of low blood pressure.)

Respiratory symptoms are more common in children who have asthma. Cardiovascular symptoms are more common in adults.

Treatment of Allergic Reactions to Food

  • If your child develops hives, give the recommended dose of an antihistamine.
  • If your child has wheezing, give him two puffs of Albuterol or one dose of Albuterol Syrup. The two puffs of Albuterol may be repeated in 20 minutes if necessary.

Epinephrine (Adrenalin) for anaphylactic reaction:

  • Keep injectible Epinephrine at home and in other locations where emergency treatment might be necessary (school, day care center). Epi Pen® and Twinject® are injection devices that can be used to give epinephrine in an emergency.
  • Epinephrine should be used for anaphylactic reaction, including wheezing, difficulty breathing, tightening of throat or chest, difficulty swallowing, lightheadedness or dizziness.
  • Call 911 as soon as Epinephrine is given. The rescue squad will help to transport your child to the nearest emergency room as quickly as possible.
  • Epinephrine lasts for 15-20 minutes. If the symptoms return after 15-20 minutes a second dose may be given if the rescue squad has not arrived.
  • Once the child is in the emergency room, they will be examined to be sure that there are not lasting symptoms. Remember the use of Epinephrine is a measure to buy time. To be safe, it should not be considered a complete treatment, even though it may prevent severe symptoms without the need for additional medication.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 04/2008