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The signs and symptoms of anaphylactic shock

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve heard all about kids with severe allergies (peanuts, anyone?). With anaphylaxis becoming more common, it’s a good idea to get clued up on what the signs and symptoms are and what to do if your child has an attack.

no peanuts allowed

What is anaphylaxis?

?Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that is caused by a specific allergen, usually food or an insect sting. It may happen so fast — as in, within a couple of minutes — that you don’t even register what’s happening. As a parent, it’s so important to learn as much as you can about anaphylaxis and its signs, symptoms and treatment to help prevent it happening to your child. Even if your child doesn’t have severe allergies, they’re becoming more and more common so chances are someone at your kid’s school will.

What are the triggers?caution bread allergy

Anaphylactic reactions are caused by “allergens”, and Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia says the most common culprit is food. As you may already know, some well-known allergens include peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews and walnuts), sesame, fish, shellfish, dairy products and eggs. Some people react to certain fruits and vegetables too, such as kiwi fruit. What many parents don’t know, though, is that some children suffer anaphylaxis from non-edible sources. For example, stinging and biting insects (like wasps), latex, penicillin and some medications can trigger severe reactions. Even exercise can cause anaphylaxis in some cases.

What are the symptoms?

While allergic reactions can range from mild to severe and even fatal, there are a set of characteristic signs and symptoms that can occur. Anaphylaxis usually affects a few parts of the body, including the skin as well as the cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Anaphylactic symptoms can occur from minutes to hours after the child has eaten the food they’re allergic to. Patients have very different reactions, but the first signs are usually flushed skin, a rash, shortness of breath and stomach cramps. If you see that your child is suffering from any of the below symptoms, seek treatment right away.

Skin reactions

Keep in mind: Skin reactions are often present with anaphylaxis but not always.
  • Flushed or itchy skin
  • Breaking out in hives or a rash
  • Tingling sensation on the lips or tongue
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue or back of the throat
  • Redness, itchiness or tearing of eyes


  • Tightness of the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking
  • Change in voice e.g. hoarseness
  • Dry, consistent cough
  • Harsh high-pitched breathing
  • Itchiness in the outer ear canals
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Noisy wheezing
  • Runny or itchy nose
  • Feeling of congestion


  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain or cramps (women can also experience uterine cramps)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea


  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Fainting
  • Decreased blood pressure (a dangerous drop in blood pressure is what usually causes the patient to go into anaphylactic shock) 
  • Chest pain
  • Abnormalities in heart rhythm
  • Collapse or unconsciousness


  • A feeling of doom or that something isn’t quite right

When should you see a doctor?

If your child is having an allergic reaction, you need to go to the emergency room immediately. If you have an adrenaline auto-injector on hand, give them a dose right away — the child then needs to be taken to hospital for observation or further treatment. Anaphylaxis is a tricky condition to manage, so it’s a good idea to regularly see a specialist. If you’re not sure where to find one, the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) has a list of allergy and immunology doctors on their website.

More tips for keeping your kid healthy

Children and food allergies
10 Foods nutritionists ban their kids from eating
Childhood obesity: Help your kids

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