Severe allergies have the potential to be life threatening. A severe allergic response can trigger anaphylactic shock in extreme cases. Anaphylaxis may involve swelling in the throat and airways, making it impossible to breathe. It can also affect the heart. It is important to get emergency treatment for an anaphylactic reaction as soon as possible. Without help, a victim could suffocate within minutes, or experience dangerously low blood pressure. These types of reactions are most often triggered by exposure to allergenic foods, bee or wasp venom, or certain types of medications. Foods are the most common trigger of severe allergies in children.

The human hormone epinephrine (adrenaline) is first-line treatment for a person undergoing an anaphylactic reaction. It quickly reverses many of the effects caused by the allergic response. The hormone must be injected at the first sign of severe allergic response. This way it can help prevent shock or possible death. Epinephrine is available in pre-measured doses that can be rapidly injected with a pen-like device called an autoinjector.

People at risk of severe allergic reactions are generally required to carry at least two epinephrine autoinjector pens with them at all times. The pens are spring-loaded syringe devices that anyone can use. These pens inject a pre-measured dose of life-saving epinephrine. The device is normally injected into the side of the upper thigh. An injection can be made through clothing if necessary. Research has shown that training in the correct use of the devices can reduce errors. Repeated regular training sessions may be necessary. Training is especially important for caretakers of small children with allergies.

Educating Others

A person who experiences a severe allergic reaction for the first time will probably be treated in an emergency medical care setting. Healthcare professionals often prescribe self-injectable epinephrine for the patient to carry everywhere with them. Autoinjector pens are relatively simple to use. It’s important to educate friends, family, and caregivers in their proper use. 

An Anaphylaxis Emergency Action Plan is a document or printed card with details about a patient’s severe allergy. Patients should carry a copy, and copies should be provided to anyone who spends significant time with the patient. The plan contains simple information about a patient’s specific allergies. It also describes symptoms and emergency action steps. It usually includes a description of the epinephrine autoinjector. It also usually has emergency contact names and numbers. The responding adult should call 911 immediately. He or she should also notify the patient’s doctor and/or parents following an epinephrine injection. 

If you have a child with severe allergies, provide written instructions about how and when to use an autoinjector to caregivers, teachers, and anyone else who may supervise your child. You can give these instructions to:

  • friends’ parents
  • school nurses
  • teachers
  • daycare workers
  • coaches
  • school administrators
  • school bus drivers 

Discuss possible symptoms with these people. Emphasize the importance of rapid response in case of crisis. Demonstrate the proper use of the autoinjector. A healthcare provider can supply a “dummy” autoinjector designed for training purposes. The device may be used on the upper arm if necessary. The side of the upper thigh is the best place for a first-aid injection, however.

Affected children should be taught how to self-inject when they are old enough to follow instructions. Siblings and other family members should also receive instruction regarding proper use of the devices. Attacks can occur at any time, without warning, and rapid response is crucial.

Research has shown that many people are unable to give an injection correctly by merely following the instructions on the device. They are more likely to use it correctly if they received prior training in its correct use. Every second counts in an anaphylactic event. Even a few minutes’ delay in giving epinephrine can result in brain damage or even death.

Voluntary Guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a comprehensive set of voluntary guidelines. Parents, educators, and doctors can use these guidelines to help schools and daycare facilities manage food allergies among children. The document provides suggestions for how to instruct responsible adults in autoinjector use.