Allergies and Anaphylaxis

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What are food allergies?

A food allergy happens when the body mistakes a component of food for a harmful substance. The body responds by causing an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions can be mild such as a rash or an upset stomach or they can be severe and life threatening. It may be difficult to avoid accidentally eating food allergens, especially in new places and with groups.

To reduce exposure to food allergens in the home, keep allergy foods out of the house and read all food package labels, even if the child has had that food before. Outside home, take the following precautions:

  • Teach children not to share any food, utensils or food containers
  • Allergic children should be taught to eat only food sent from home
  • Tables, toys and other common surfaces should be wiped down after meals
  • Teach all children to wash their hands before and after eating
  • Depending on the severity of the allergy, special measures may be implemented in the classroom.

What is anaphylaxis?

Severe allergic reactions are called anaphylactic reactions. Symptoms of anaphylaxis usually involve two or more of the following: the skin (rash or swelling), respiratory system (breathing), gastrointestinal system (stomach), or cardiovascular system (heart). Anaphylactic reactions require immediate treatment as they can be fatal.

If this reaction occurs, call 9-1-1 immediately and follow the directions on the child's medical care plan.

What are the common causes of anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis may be caused by food, insect stings or medications. These reactions may be unpredictable and therefore early symptoms should never be ignored, especially if a person has had an anaphylactic reaction in the past. Food is the most common cause of anaphylaxis in children, teens and young adults. Insect stings and medications are the most common cause of anaphylaxis in adults. Among the triggers:

  • Foods, such as peanuts, eggs, and fish.
  • Food additives such as colorings or tenderizers like MSG.
  • Insect stings from bees, wasps or other insects.
  • Medications such as penicillin or sulpha drugs.
  • Latex found in gloves or condoms.

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?

Symptoms of anaphylaxis may appear seconds, minutes or hours after exposure to an allergen. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

  • Red flushed face, may be blotchy
  • Clammy, sweaty skin
  • Hives, rash and/or itching
  • Tingling or itchy feeling in mouth
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Swollen eyes, lips, tongue and/or face
  • Coughing, choking, voice change
  • Cramps, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Dizziness and/or confusion
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Rapid pulse

How can I treat anaphylaxis?

Epinephrine autoinjectors, such as the Epipen brand, are medical devices used for injecting a measured dose of adrenaline (epinephrine) which can halt an anaphylactic reaction. A single-use autoinjector is the recommended product for safe and effective administration of adrenaline in a school setting.

Fraser Health's Public Health nurses are available to provide single-use autoinjector teaching to school staff. If a child uses an alternate autoinjector, such as the Twinject brand, parents must provide the training to school staff. It is a good idea to seek out training in order to be prepared to help out a child or youth with anaphylaxis who needs emergency help.

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