When Is An Allergic Reaction To Food An Emergency?

Dr. Wesley Burks answers the question: 'When Is A Food Allergy An Emergency?'

ByWesley Burks, M.D., Chief, Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, Duke University Medical Center
March 25, 2008, 12:44 PM

— -- Question: When is an allergic reaction to food an emergency?

Answer: Most of the food allergy reactions are caused -- the symptoms they have are the skin's an itchy, red rash, the gastrointestinal symptoms, which will be vomiting, severe abdominal pain or diarrhea, and then respiratory symptoms. And the respiratory symptoms can be both upper and lower. The lower respiratory symptoms, though, are the ones that cause life-threatening or life-ending reactions. Those symptoms will be swelling or constriction of the airway, and then wheezing.

If you sense that you are having a food allergic reaction that's life-threatening -- or your child is -- the best immediate thing is to give them epinephrine that you likely would have already been given because you're in that at-risk group. After giving epinephrine, then you give an antihistamine like Benadryl. And then, as you do that, then you're calling 911 to have medical care providers come help you. Often, you'll have a second epinephrine-containing compound that you may have to give, although that doesn't happen commonly, and by that time medical care should be there to help you go on with treatment.

Next: How Do You Diagnose A Food Allergy?

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