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Children and Allergic Reactions

We all worry about our children having a food allergic reaction and our worst fear is our child having an anaphylactic reaction. It can keep us up at night and on edge at events or when our child goes on a playdate.  Creating an emergency plan with your medical team is of the utmost importance along with having 2 auto-injectors of epinephrine.  You can view guidelines and a template for an emergency plan on FARES’ website. The link is listed at the end of this blog post.

It is vital to know the key symptoms of both a mild and severe reaction.  Children may describe an allergic reaction in a unique way.  It is important to keep these in mind and observe your child carefully with any symptoms that could be a sign of an allergic reaction. 

These are the most common symptoms of a mild and severe allergic reaction (*according to Food Allergy Research and Education):

Mild symptoms:

  • Hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin)
  • Eczema (a persistent dry, itchy rash)
  • Redness of the skin or around the eyes
  • Itchy mouth or ear canal
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain, cramping
  • Nasal congestion or a runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Slight, dry cough
  • Odd taste in mouth

Severe symptoms (one or more may occur):

  • Obstructive swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Turning blue
  • Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • A weak or “thread” pulse
  • Sense of “impending doom”

These are straightforward but how a child may describe a symptom may not be exactly as listed above.  Here are some examples of how children may describe or what they may do when experiencing an allergic reaction:

*Lists of symptoms and descriptions derived from Food Allergy and Research Education (FARE)

Very young children may:

  • Put their hands in their mouths
  • Pull or scratch at their tongues
  • Have a change in their voice such as hoarseness or squeakiness
  • Pull at their ears
  • Have slurred speech
  • Cry or exhibit fear or panic due to the unfamiliar feeling

 Older kids may describe what they are feeling as:

  • “This food is too spicy.”
  • “My tongue is hot [or burning].”
  • “It feels like something’s poking my tongue.”
  • “My tongue [or mouth] is tingling [or burning].”
  • “My tongue [or mouth] itches.”
  • “It [my tongue] feels like there is hair on it.”
  • “My mouth feels funny.”
  • “There’s a frog in my throat.”
  • “There’s something stuck in my throat.”
  • “My tongue feels full [or heavy].”
  • “My lips feel tight.”
  • “It feels like there are bugs in there.” (to describe itchy ears)
  • “It [my throat] feels thick.”
  • “It feels like a bump is on the back of my tongue [throat].”

Having an awareness of the different possibilities of how a child may act or describe a food allergic reaction will help you be better prepared. The quicker you can identify an allergic reaction the sooner you can take the appropriate steps to treat your child. 

It bears repeating, please have an emergency plan in place for your child or anyone with a food allergy.  It is important that all those who may be responsible for your child understand the plan and how to use the auto-injector of epinephrine. 

Having a good understanding of symptoms, an emergency plan and a circle of caregivers who are equipped to handle a food allergic reaction for your child helps reduce the stress around potential reactions.  Putting emergency plans in place can also save vital time to treat a severe reaction. 

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