Allergies affect more than a quarter of all the children across Europe. They can affect a child’s quality of life, impair school performance and in severe cases, even present a life-threatening level of risk.
Nuts remain one of the most common allergens, with as many as one in 70 UK children allergic to peanuts. People can react adversely to pretty much anything, so it can be extremely helpful to carry out tests to establish exactly what triggers their symptoms. Sometimes surprising groups of allergens can cluster together. Potatoes and tomatoes for example, belong to the same family of vegetables – if you react to one, you’re likely to be sensitive to the other as well. In some instances, a child might be exposed to a known allergen but won’t react immediately, with exercise later triggering a delayed response.
Common symptoms of a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis can include flushed skin, a rash or hives and swelling of the throat and mouth accompanied by difficulty in swallowing or speaking. In some cases the child may experience alterations in heart rate (usually speeding up) and feelings of acute anxiety. Depending on the child’s medical background, they might also be affected by a severe asthma attack that isn’t relieved by an inhaler, acute abdominal pain, violent nausea and vomiting and potentially unconsciousness
Not everyone will react in the same way, making anaphylactic reactions difficult to diagnose and predict. Individuals may react in different ways to exactly the same allergen when exposed to it on different occasions.
Auto-injectors containing adrenaline are used to treat acute anaphylactic reaction. The sooner they’re administered once a reaction has occurred, the more effective they are. Adrenaline reduces the most dangerous symptoms of anaphylaxis – throat swelling, breathing difficulties and low blood pressure. Adrenaline is metabolised quickly; it’s important to call an ambulance as soon as an auto injector has been given, since the effects will wear off within about 10 to 15 minutes. Another injector can be given 5 to 15 minutes after the first, if necessary.
Antihistamines take up to 15 minutes to work, and thus aren’t suitable for acute, life-threatening anaphylactic reactions, but can be useful to treat localised, non-life threatening allergic reaction. After an anaphylactic reaction, always call an ambulance; the casualty will usually be admitted overnight for observation.
Emma Hammett is a registered general nurse and the founder/CEO of the first aid training provider First Aid for Life.