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How to Recognize Anaphylaxis

anaphylaxis and epi-pen

According to the CDC, severe food allergies affect 4-6% of children who attend school.  And the real number is likely higher.  Many people don’t even realize that they have a food allergy until they have an anaphylactic reaction.  For children with severe food allergies, the risk of anaphylaxis is real, and it can be deadly.

For many kids, we are not talking about risk of a rash or a simple stomach ache.  Anaphylaxis from severe food allergy kills children every year.  And even when treated promptly and correctly, they can still die.  Whether or not you have a child with food allergies, you need to know what these allergies can look like.  After all, we have to look out for each other.   It takes a village.

Ask Questions

If your child is in school, ask their teacher about food allergies in the class.  And if there is a specific food allergy in the class, respect it.  It is difficult enough for children with significant food restrictions due to their allergies.  They already can’t eat many of the same things their peers eat and often feel left out at holiday parties and birthday celebrations.  It would be GREAT if we could all come together as a community and make sure that they didn’t feel isolated at school.

Educate your kids

Talk to your children about food allergies.  Make sure they know that although they may enjoy certain foods and treats, that some kids have allergies that can restrict their diet.  And although “sharing is caring” it can actually be pretty dangerous for some.  Some simple rules can help.

No food sharing

Regardless of if your child has a food allergy or not, set a simple rule of no sharing food at lunch or on the bus.  Even if your food allergy kid is well versed on what they can and cannot eat, mistakes can happen.  And different varieties of the same brand can be deadly.  So emphasize that you love that they want to share and try new things.  But NOT at school.  And NOT on the bus.  And if they are insistent that they want to share something, invest in some stickers or pencils 🙂

Pack safe

If you know that there are food allergies in your child’s class, respect them.  Do not send in treats that all the kids can’t have.  Check the labels.  Ask your teacher about severity.  There are LOTS of substitutions that can be made now.  If there is a severe allergy in the class, try to make sure your child’s lunch doesn’t have the potential for hurting someone else’s kid.

What does anaphylaxis look like?

Unfortunately, anaphylaxis can look different in different kids.  And it can be different each time.  But in general, if you have any symptoms in 2 different body areas, you are having an anaphylactic reaction.  And it’s not necessarily throat closing up and trouble breathing.  Here are the different systems and what you might see…


  • Pale or blue skin
  • Weak pulses
  • Dizzy


  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Persistent cough


  • Diffusely red skin
  • Covered in hives


  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea


  • Swelling of lips or tonge
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling like throat is closing up


  • Anxiety
  • Confusion

So anaphylaxis can be vomiting and cough.  Or wheezing and a rash.  Or unconscious with face swelling.  It can look different each time and look different in every person.

Be an Advocate

Now that you know the risk is real and what it can look like, be an advocate for children with allergies.  And teach your children to be the same.  Talk about why food allergies are important.  Talk about what an allergic reaction can look like.  And even though your child may not be able to administer epinephrine, they certainly can let an adult know if one of their peers is in trouble.  Our kids are smart and often kinder than we adults.  Let’s give them the tools to protect each other.

Here is a download with Signs of Anaphylaxis (728 downloads) .  Print it out and give it to anyone who may be watching your kiddo.  Know what to look for.  Make sure you know what forms are needed from your school to have appropriate medications in school.  You can check out my post on medications in school here.

For more infomation on food allergies, you can check out the CDC’s guide to Food Allergies in Schools.  They actually have some great resources including information for bus drivers.  There is also a great tip sheet for teachers and educators.

Together, we can protect ALL of our kids.

Posted in Common childhood illness, General, Infants and Toddlers, Middle and High School, Preschool and elementary, Safety

1 Comment

  1. Kristen Stuppy

    This is great information! As a pediatrician, I find that a lot of adults (including school nurses) are afraid to follow the action plans by giving epinephrine. They worry that a “shot” will hurt. If the child is having anaphylaxis, it can save their life. Knowing if they’re having anaphylaxis is important!

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