Children’s Food Allergies: When to Call 911

We often think of allergies as mere seasonal nuisances best treated with an allergy pill, a box of tissues, and a few compulsory complaints. However, there are some types of allergies that are actually quite dangerous.

In some people, an allergic reaction to a substance can trigger a reaction known as anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. Essentially, the body believes an allergen is a dangerous invader, and does everything it can to reject the substance, creating an immune system reaction that is far more dangerous than the substance itself.

In children, anaphylactic responses can be caused by a number of triggers, but food allergies are especially common causes. The most common foods kids can be allergic to include:

Common Food Allergies

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Wheat

According to Healthline, this list of eight items contributes to about 90% of all food allergies. In general, food allergies are fairly common; in 2016, 5.3% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 had food allergies in the past twelve months.

Mild Reactions

Though food allergies are uncomfortable and can limit a child’s diet, some symptoms of allergies are mild and not emercency situations. Common, non-life threatening reactions to foods include:

  • Cough
  • Mild dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing
  • Hives or eczema
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy mouth and ears
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling of the face and head area
  • Shortness of breath

After eating a food that she is allergic to, a child will experience one or a few of these symptoms within minutes and up to an hour. If the symptoms are minor, consider taking the child to a pediatrician to get tested for food allergies.

If the symptoms are causing discomfort, over-the-counter allergy medicines or an urgent care center might also be able to help. Most (90.6%) centers remain open to 7:00 pm or even later on weeknights, with two out of five staying open until 9:00 pm or later, so urgent care centers can offer quick relief for uncomfortable children.

Signs of Severe Reactions

Sometimes, children’s allergic reactions go from mild to much more serious in a matter of moments. Signs of anaphylaxis in children can vary widely, but often include:

  • Swelling of the throat, chest, face, or mouth that impairs breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Confusion
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Weak pulse
  • Lips or tongue turning blue
  • When multiple parts/systems of the body are involved. For example, a child who is vomiting and has hives is likely having a severe allergic reaction.

If a child is exhibiting these symptoms, swift action should be taken to prevent serious medical consequences and even loss of life. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can develop in moments, or over the course of an hour, so it is important to monitor children both during and after meals.

What to Do

For mild allergic reactions (think itchy rashes, not trouble breathing), a trip to your primary care physician or an urgent care center is usually the best course of action, and fully 85% of urgent care clinics are open seven days a week. Of course, for severe allergic reactions, fast, emergency action is warranted.

Children who have been diagnosed with food allergies should carry epinephrine with them at all times in case of a reaction. Parents, caretakers, and children themselves should know how to administer the medication.

With or without epinephrine, caretakers should still call 911 whenever anaphylaxis occurs. Even if the epinephrine treats severe symptoms, they can sometimes return within a few hours. Take children to an emergency room to ensure the best treatment and recovery from an allergic episode.


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