Anaphylaxis in Children

What is anaphylaxis in children?

Anaphylaxis is a severe and sometimes 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 as quickly as seconds to as long as an hour after contact. To be allergic to something, your child would have had to come in contact with the allergen before. This is when sensitization would happen.

What causes anaphylaxis in children?

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:

  • Medicines, such as penicillin
  • Foods
  • Dyes used for medical tests
  • Allergy shots
  • Bug stings
  • Latex

Who is at risk for anaphylaxis in children?

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

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Family history of anaphylaxis
  • Had anaphylaxis before

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis in children?

Symptoms appear quickly. Anaphylaxis may happen minutes to hours after being exposed to an allergen. However, each child may face symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Tightness or swelling of the throat, tongue, or uvula (small, soft pendulum that hangs down in the back of your throat)
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Uneasy feeling or agitation
  • Widespread hives
  • Severe itching of the skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Loss of bladder control

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

How is anaphylaxis in children diagnosed?

The diagnosis of anaphylaxis is based on a medical history. The health care provider will look at the following to make a diagnosis:

  • Any known allergies
  • Exposure to allergens
  • Description of symptoms
  • Physical exam, including blood pressure
  • Blood test results, in some cases

How is anaphylaxis in children treated?

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. Your child will need urgent medical care. He or she will probably get a shot of epinephrine. This will help stop the bad effects caused by the allergen. You will be taught how to use an epinephrine shot. You will have to keep it near your child in case of future events. Talk about this with your child’s health care provider.

Can anaphylaxis in children be prevented?

The best way to prevent anaphylaxis is to avoid known allergy triggers.

Living with anaphylaxis in children

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 avoid the trigger. Your health care provider may also prescribe an epinephrine shot. You will be taught how to use it. The shot can be given quickly if your child has another episode.

Key points about anaphylaxis in children

  • Anaphylaxis is a severe and sometimes life-threatening reaction to an allergen.
  • Anaphylaxis is caused by allergies to things such as medicines, foods, dyes, allergy shots, bug stings, and latex.
  • Symptoms of anaphylaxis include: tightness or swelling of the throat, tongue, or uvula, trouble breathing, widespread 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 avoid known allergy triggers.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.