Anaphylaxis In Children: What Every Parent Needs To Know

According to research, it only takes 1-2 minutes for a mild allergic reaction to turn into anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening. As many as 50 million people in the United States may be at risk for developing anaphylaxis, which includes the 8% of American children under the age of 3 who have food allergies. Unfortunately, it's difficult to notice symptoms of severe allergic reactions and anaphylaxis in children under 3. If you are a parent of a small child or are expecting a baby, here's what you need to know. 

Causes of Anaphylaxis

Here are allergens that can lead to anaphylaxis in people who are extremely sensitive when they are exposed to them:

  • foods: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy, fish, and shellfish
  • medication: penicillin
  • vaccines: containing eggs and/or gelatin, including diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus
  • stinging insects: fire ants, bees, yellow jackets, wasps, and hornets 

Note: It is possible for children to react to allergens contained in their mothers' breast milk. 

Normal Symptoms of Anaphylaxis, Regardless of Age 

Here are the symptoms of anaphylaxis that occur regardless of age:

  • itchy skin and hives
  • swelling of the tongue, throat and uvula 
  • uncontrollable bowel movements and/or urination
  • abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and/or vomiting 
  • blood pressure drops and/or lethargic 
  • feeling of anxiousness and/or fright
  • heart attack
  • unconsciousness 

Variables in Anaphylaxis, Based On Age 

Some of the above symptoms can be difficult to determine in an infant or toddler, because they are also considered somewhat normal, such as uncontrollable bowel movements and urination. Lethargy and unconsciousness may make a baby or toddler look like they are sleeping. 

Preschool-aged children may seem like they are having a temper tantrum or have uncontrollable crying, but in reality when experiencing the onset of anaphylaxis, they may actually know that something is seriously wrong and don't know how to express their anxiousness and fright in any other way. 

Emergency Room Treatment for Anaphylaxis 

If your child experiences symptoms that you believe may be anaphylaxis and/or life-threatening in any way, it's crucial that you take your child to the nearest hospital for immediate care in the ER. The ER staff will administer life-saving epinephrine, which is the medication form of adrenaline.

Epinephrine works by tightening blood vessels to reduce swelling, which also helps to increase blood pressure. It increases the heart rate and relaxes the muscles around the lungs to improve breathing. It also prevents further antihistamine from being released to stop the life-threatening allergic reaction from progressing. 

During this process, the staff will need to monitor your child's heart rate and oxygen levels. Therefore, don't be alarmed when your child is hooked up to an EKG monitor and given an oxygen mask. The treatment will continue until your child's allergic reaction clears up. 

Afterwards, your child will be given a prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector. This medication will need to be near your child at all times. 

Testing Procedures for Determining the Allergen 

It is crucial that you and your child's medical team determine the allergen your child is deathly allergic to. There are several testing procedures that doctors use to determine sensitivities to allergens. These tests should only be performed by a medical doctor and only when epinephrine is readily available in case of a severe reaction during the test. 

  • skin prick test: suspected allergen is scratched into the skin
  • injected test: suspected allergen is injected into the skin 
  • blood test: blood is drawn and tested for antibodies
  • oral food challenge: a small amount of suspected allergen is placed in the mouth

It's crucial that you share your recollection of the events leading up to the reaction with your child's medical team. That way, they can try to narrow down the allergen so they can keep the allergy testing to a minimum. For more information, contact a company like Oak Brook Allergists.