Know What to Do During an Allergic Reaction

food allergy reaction

May is Food Allergy Action Month and May 8th through May 14th is Food Allergy Awareness Week. Every May, FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) hosts a nationwide Food Allergy Awareness Week to shine a spotlight on the seriousness of food allergies and to improve public understanding of this potentially life-threatening medical condition.

Here are some quick facts about food allergies:

  • Food allergies can be life-threatening and are a serious and growing public health problem.
  • They affect up to 15 million Americans, including nearly 6 million children–that’s approximately 1 in 13 kids or two in
    every classroom.¹
  • Nearly 40 percent of these children have already experienced a severe or life-threatening
    reaction. In addition, more than 30 percent of these children have multiple food allergies.
  • The number of children with food allergies in the U.S. increased 50 percent between 1997
    and 2011, but there is no clear answer as to why.²
  • A reaction to food can range from a mild response (such as an itchy mouth) to anaphylaxis, a
    severe and potentially deadly reaction.
  • Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room in the U.S.
  • In the US, eight foods (peanut, tree nuts, egg, soy, milk, fish, shellfish, and wheat), known as the top 8, account for 90% of all food allergy reactions, though anyone can be allergic to any food. Interestingly, the top allergic foods vary by country.

Being the mother of 3 children with multiple food allergies, there is so much that I could write about to raise awareness today, this week, this month, this year. After giving it much thought, what I really want to talk about is knowing what to do during an allergic reaction. 

Each month, almost every week, I hear stories from moms and dads about how hesitant they are about using epinephrine to treat an allergic reaction or how they are unclear about what they should do in the event of an allergic reaction.

Accidents happen, and they happen fast so you must be prepared.  While avoidance of known allergens is the first line of defense against having an allergic reaction, accidents do happen even with a high-level of vigilance on your part.

An allergic reaction to food (or any substance) can be very severe or even fatal. Anaphylaxis is the term used to describe a sudden severe, life-threatening allergic reaction which can lead to constriction of the airways, drop in blood pressure, and suffocation due to swelling in the throat.

I can’t stress this enough: during an allergic reaction, you must be able to act quickly in order to minimize the severity of the reaction, so it is very important to know what to do. You must be prepared BEFORE your child has an allergic reaction. Here are some tips to help you prepare yourself. When it comes to treating anaphylaxis, speed is of the essence.

Follow Your Child’s Allergy Emergency Plan

Create a Food Allergy Emergency Plan with your child’s allergist (or primary care physician). Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) has a great example of a Food Allergy Emergency Plan that you can print and give to your allergist to customize.You can download it at:

No matter what form you use, the emergency plan should be written out clearly and easy to understand. It should also cover the following:

  • Your child’s allergies
  • Possible signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction
  • Each action step of the allergy treatment plan and which medications should be given and when. While Epinephrine (ex. Adrenaclick®, EpiPen®) is the first and best response for treating anaphylaxis, your doctor may prescribe other treatments or medications (ex. Antihistamine, Albuterol, Prednisone) to be used in addition to epinephrine.
  • List your contact information as well as emergency contacts.

Always Carry Two Epinephrine Autoinjectors

Always have at least two (2) epinephrine auto-injectors (and other emergency meds) with your child. Never leave home without it. Epinephrine is the only medication that treats all of the symptoms of anaphylaxis.

  • Fill your epinephrine prescription immediately after it is prescribed.
  • Store epinephrine at room temperature.
  • Make sure you know how to use your epinephrine auto-injector. Read over the instructions and practice with the training device that comes in each package. You may also ask your doctor or nurse to demonstrate the administration with the trainer if you are still unsure or uncomfortable with using it.
  • Replace any discolored or expired epinephrine auto-injectors with new ones.
  • Keep an additional set of epinephrine auto-injectors at home in a designated place.
  • Train your child (if age appropriate) family, friends, teachers, babysitters and anyone else who may be caring for your child on when and how to use the epinephrine auto-injector. Make sure they know where it can be found in the case of an emergency. Also, make sure they are aware of your child’s Food Allergy Emergency Plan.
  • Follow your child’s Food Allergy Emergency Plan without hesitation. Act quickly when you notice symptoms. Administering epinephrine early on is crucial to preventing serious complications and death.
  • Note that a second dose of epinephrine may be needed if your child’s symptoms are not improving within 5-10 minutes of the last dose.
  • Call 911 immediately after administering the first dose of epinephrine.

Know the Signs and Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction

To be fully prepared, you must know the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction. As mentioned previously, you must be able to act fast in the event of an allergic reaction. But before you can take action, you have to be able to recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Your emergency plan is useless if you do not know when you need to implement it.

If your child has a history of severe allergic reactions, many doctors advise administering the epinephrine auto-injector as soon as you notice symptoms of an allergic reaction. Be sure to discuss your particular needs with your allergist or primary care physician. Remember, a speedy response is critical to minimizing the risk of serious complications.

Speak to your physician about the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction. Make sure you are familiar with all of the symptoms of an allergic reaction and include them on your child’s Emergency Plan.

Symptoms may occur immediately after ingesting a food or may be delayed for a short period of time (usually less than 2 hours).

Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include some of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing
  • Repetitive coughing
  • Tightness of the throat, hoarseness, swelling of the vocal chords
  • Hives
  • Itching of the mouth, throat, or skin
  • Swelling of the tongue, lips, mouth, face, or extremities
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Sense of impending doom, panic, anxiety
  • Confusion

Be sure to discuss these and other possible symptoms with your doctor so that you feel comfortable recognizing an allergic reaction. Remember: Do not hesitate to implement your Food Allergy Emergency Plan and call 911 if you believe your child may be having a severe allergic reaction.

5 Actionable Steps You Can Take to Be Prepared

  1. Develop a Food Allergy Emergency plan with your doctor. If you already have a plan, review it and make sure that all of the information is up-to-date.
  2. Practice using your auto-injector training device.
  3. Make sure that everyone who cares for your child has access to your child’s epinephrine auto-injectors and Food Allergy Emergency Plan.
  4. Discuss possible symptoms of an allergic reaction with your doctor and list them on your emergency action plan.
  5. Explain possible symptoms to your child, family members, friends, teachers, and caregivers so they can recognize allergic reactions, as well.

This week is great time to make sure you’re up to speed on all of these steps. I would love to hear your thoughts please feel free to share your comments below.

Medical Disclaimer: As always here at, this article is for general information only. Each person’s biological, physical, emotional, and spiritual condition is unique. This information is not intended to replace or interrupt your relationship with a physician or other professionals. Please consult your doctor for matters pertaining to your specific health, condition, or diet.


  1. KD Jackson, LD Howie, LJ Akinbami, “Trends in Allergic Conditions among Children: United States, 1997-2011. NCHS date Brief, no 121.” Hyattsville MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013.
  2. Ruchi Gupta, et al. “The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States.” Pediatrics 128, no 1 (2011): e9-e17.


About Tiffany deSilva

Hi I'm Tiffany deSilva, MSW, CPC, CHC, Founder of BrightFire Living, LLC. I am a social worker, speaker, author, certified health, wellness and lifestyle coach, certified green living coach and toxic-free consultant. I am passionate about helping women like you to detox each area of your life, safeguard your family's health, and live life fully charged and completely lit up! I am on a mission to empower women and families who are managing food allergies, autoimmune disorders, and other modern chronic health conditions to live a safe, happy, and healthy life that truly lights your fire!

Feedback & Comments:

  1. Great article Tiffany, love the Emergency Plan idea. And making sure all parties are comfortable and trained how to implement the plan is truly crucial to minimize the damage should something happen. Can’t tell you how many times when I worked in a school the teachers were left out of this conversation and then had to scramble in a panic because there were no plans like this in place. Must read!

    • Tiffany deSilva says

      Thank you very much, Lisa! Yes, you definitely don’t want your teachers scrambling in panic during an emergency.

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