Allergies affect more than 1/4 of children throughout Europe; they affect their quality of life, may impair school performance and there is an associated risk of a life-threatening severe reaction.
As many as one in 70 children in the UK are allergic to peanuts and nuts remain one of the most common allergens.
People can react to pretty much anything and it can be extremely helpful to be tested and establish exactly what it is that triggers symptoms. Sometimes surprising groups of allergens cluster together and the increased awareness can enable you to try and avoid all possible triggers. Potatoes and tomatoes for example belong to the same family of vegetables, therefore if you react to one, you are likely to be sensitive to the other as well.
Sometimes someone is exposed to a known allergen, but doesn’t react immediately. Exercise can trigger a delayed response.
Common symptoms of a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis
- Flushed skin
- A rash or hives anywhere on the body
- A feeling of acute anxiety or ‘sense of impending doom’
- Swelling of the throat and mouth, difficulty swallowing or speaking
- Alterations in heart rate – usually speeding up
- Severe asthma attack which isn’t relieved by an inhaler
- Acute abdominal pain, violent nausea and vomiting
- A sudden feeling of weakness followed by collapse and unconsciousness
Not everyone reacts in the same way and an anaphylactic reaction can be difficult to diagnose and predict. Individuals may react in different ways to exactly the same allergen when they are repeatedly exposed to it on other occasions. Therefore it can sometimes be extremely difficult to predict exact symptoms.
Auto-injectors containing adrenaline are used to treat acute anaphylactic reaction. The sooner they are administered once a reaction has occurred, the more effective they are. The most common brands of autoinjectors in the UK are Epipen, Jext and Emerade.
Adrenaline reduces the most dangerous symptoms of anaphylaxis - throat swelling, difficulty breathing and low blood pressure. Adrenaline is metabolised very quickly so it is important you call an ambulance as soon as an auto-injector has been given as its effects wear off within about 10 to 15 minutes. Another injector can be given 5-15 minutes after the first if necessary.
Giving an auto-injector
Hold the injector in your dominant hand. With the other hand, remove the safety cap. Put the injector firmly into the upper, outer part of the casualty’s thigh.
If it is a small child who is having the reaction, the easiest way to give the autoinjector is to calmly reassure them. Pop the child onto your lap, holding them securely and closely and quickly give the injection into the upper outer part of their thigh. Remove the autoinjector carefully and rub the injected area for 10 seconds. If they do not start to recover or begin to get worse, you may need to give another injector. Always phone an ambulance.
Patient positioning for anaphylaxis
Someone suffering from acute anaphylaxis is likely to be showing signs of clinical shock. Reassuring them and positioning them appropriately can make a major difference to their treatment. They should also be kept warm and dry.
If the casualty is short of breath, they should sit in an upright position to make breathing easier. Putting something under their knees to increase their circulation is also helpful. For a small child, they may prefer to stay on your lap.
If they are not having difficulty breathing, but are flushed and feeling dizzy, they should lie down with their legs raised to improve circulation to their vital organs. If they are likely to vomit, they should turn their head to one side. They should be covered and kept in this position until the paramedics arrive.
After an anaphylactic reaction
An ambulance should always be called and they will usually be admitted overnight for observation.
It is strongly advised you attend a practical or online first aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit www.firstaidforlife.org.uk or www.onlinefirstaid.com for more information about our courses. First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made or actions taken based on this information.
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