How To Recognize And Respond To Anaphylaxis In A Child

If you have a child with allergies, most likely you are familiar with anaphylaxis, a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. The most common anaphylactic reactions are to foods, insect stings and medications, and they can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen. These reactions can happen to children at any age, including infants, and if not treated immediately, they can be fatal.

At Westchester Health, we have a number of pediatric patients with allergies, and we offer this blog to help parents understand the signs of an allergic reaction and know what to do if their child is experiencing one.

James A. Pollowitz, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI

Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis

The signs of anaphylaxis can vary greatly, occur suddenly and signal an emergency. These signs include:

  • hives, itching, redness of the skin
  • swollen eyes, lips, tongue or face
  • difficulty breathing, throat constriction (tightening) or difficulty swallowing
  • abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • coughing
  • stuffy and/or runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing
  • fainting, confusion, light-headedness or dizziness
  • rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • cold, clammy, sweaty skin
  • voice changes

Symptoms in infants

  • irritability, fussiness, or inconsolable crying
  • sudden drooling
  • unusual sleepiness
  • skin pallor
  • non-responsiveness

What causes anaphylaxis? Here are the most common allergans

We recommend this list from which can be a very important guide for parents.


  • Peanuts are one of the most common U.S. food allergies. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to introduce peanut-containing foods after their baby has tried low-allergy-risk foods as an allergen prevention strategy
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Tree nuts such as walnuts, pistachios, pecans and cashews
  • Shellfish (shrimp, crayfish, crab, lobster, clams, scallops, oysters and mussels)
  • Fish such as tuna, salmon and cod

Insect stings

  • Bees
  • Wasps
  • Hornets
  • Yellow jackets
  • Fire ants

Certain medications

  • Antibiotics and antiseizure medicines are some of the more common medicines that cause anaphylaxis. However, any medicine, even aspirin, has the potential to cause severe reactions.

What to do for your child during anaphylaxis

Make no mistake, anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If you suspect your child is having anaphylaxis, call 911 or go to the emergency department right away. While waiting for 911 to respond, here are 5 things you can do to help your child, suggests AboutKidsHealth:

  1. If your child has an emergency anaphylaxis medication, such as an EpiPen, inject it right away. Give a second dose of epinephrine if your child’s symptoms get worse, continue, or do not get better in 5 minutes. When the rescue squad arrives, tell the emergency personnel when epinephrine was last given.
  2. Calm and reassure your child and have him/her lie down. If your child vomits or has trouble breathing, keep him/her lying on his or her side.
  3. Check your child’s airway and breathing. Strained breathing or talking, a hoarse voice or high-pitched breathing sounds are all signs that your child’s throat may be swollen and the airways are blocked.
  4. Do not give any medication by mouth if your child is having trouble breathing.
  5. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you have an Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan. Your pediatrician can help you put this together.

Read our blogs on the subject

We’ve written several informative blogs about allergies in children which you can read here.

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers

Whatever the age of your child, count on the pediatricians of Westchester Health and Northwell Physician Partners for vital information to help you raise happy, healthy kids. Whether you have newborns, toddlers, adolescents or teenagers, we’ve got years of experience helping parents take care of their children and we’re here to help you with yours. Please call us at (914) 232-1919.

Want to know more about anaphylaxis? Please come see us.

If you have a child with allergies and are worried about the possibility of an anaphylactic reaction, please (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment to see one of our Westchester Health allergy specialists. We’ll examine your child, possibly perform some tests, share our knowledge about anaphylaxis, and make sure all your questions are answered. Most of all, we want to help you raise a healthy child and feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

By James A. Pollowitz, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI, an allergy, asthma and immunology specialist and pediatric physician with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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