Family Health Guide

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First Aid: Allergic Reactions


If your child has a reaction to a particular food, you may see these symptoms within minutes of him eating even a trace amount:


  • Rashes
  • Hives
  • Runny nose
  • Diarrhea


  • Stomach pain with vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue and throat

Many food allergy reactions are usually mild to moderate (usually hives and itchiness). If these occur, call the pediatrician, as he'll probably want you to examine your child. You may be directed to administer a dose of a liquid antihistamine, like Benadryl, depending on your child's age and the severity of the reaction. Watch him closely for the next 15 to 30 minutes for serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the mouth, airways and tongue, wheezing, and increased drooling (a sign that airways are blocked), which require emergency help. This is known as anaphylaxis, a serious whole-body reaction which can close up a child's throat so he can't breathe. Call 911 at the first sign that he's having any trouble breathing. Obviously, don’t feed your child any more of the offending food until you speak with the doctor about it.

Of course, tell friends, relatives, and caregivers about your child's food allergy so they can help keep him safe. But no matter how hard you try, accidental exposures can happen. That's why it's important to make sure you and everyone else taking care of your child always has the following items:

Antihistamines (like liquid Benadryl) to treat a mild allergic reaction

EpiPen This is a prefilled syringe of epinephrine, a hormone that relaxes muscles in the airways, tightens blood vessels, and temporarily reverses an allergic reaction. The doctor will prescribe this medication if your child has had a previous severe episode. You’ll be tasked with actually sticking the EpiPen in her arm to administer the medicine. You should keep two handy in case a second dose is needed.

Cell phone (always charged!), so you can call 911 in case of an extreme allergic reaction

Safe snacks so you don't get stuck with a hungry child and no other food options


You may not realize your child is allergic to bee or wasp stings until she gets one for the first time. Serious reactions may include some or all of the following: difficulty breathing, wheezing or difficulty swallowing, swelling of the face, throat, or mouth area, red, itchy hives that spread beyond the area where he was stung, anxiety, or dizziness. If your child has a prescription EpiPen, (as described above), then give him the shot, and go to the ER. If you are not equipped with an EpiPen, call 911 or go to the ER if your child experiences any of the above mentioned reactions

Fire Ants

Fire-ant bites have the same potential to produce a life-threatening allergic reaction as bee and wasp stings. They nest in the ground, making it easy for kids to roll or step on them. Get medical help immediately if you see signs of shock, nausea, severe rash, or any difficulty breathing or swallowing. 


Most vaccines produce no reactions whatsoever, or very minor ones, like soreness at the injection site or a low-grade fever. Your child may also be a little cranky or may nap longer than usual afterward. But some do contain ingredients that kids could be allergic to, such as gelatin. Call the doctor if your child exhibits any of the reactions listed above, under Food.


Hives (angry, red splotches) are sometimes considered a type of allergic reaction (some doctors prefer the term "hypersensitivity"), although it can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly your child is reacting to. While typical allergens like foods, medicines, insect bites or stings can cause hives, so can external irritants like soap, shampoo, sunscreen, blankets, and new clothing, as well as changes in temperature and viruses; all of these make outbreaks of hives among children during cold and flu season a predictable occurrence at daycare centers and preschools. The hallmark feature that distinguishes hives from other rashes is that the spots move around. They will appear, gradually fade, and then reappear in a different spot. In many instances, it will clear up by itself.  Doctors will usually recommend an oral antihistamine to minimize the reaction and soothe the itching -- topical creams and lotions aren't usually helpful because hives are an internal reaction. Rarely, a case of hives will occur as part of a more serious allergic reaction (see bee stings, above), so if your child is also having breathing difficulty, has swelling of the lips or tongue, or begins vomiting or passes out, call 911.