An allergy is when the body’s immune system mistakes a harmless foreign substance for something dangerous, like a virus or bacteria. From then on, when that formerly harmless substance enters the body, the immune system attacks. Histamines and other chemicals are released, and can cause many different symptoms. Usually, reactions are fairly minor.

Serious Allergy

Sometimes a person will develop an allergy that is particularly serious. In such a case, the allergic reaction can be dangerous and even life threatening. This reaction is known as “anaphylaxis.” During anaphylaxis, airways may narrow or close, causing difficulty breathing. Other serious symptoms may include:

  • chest pain
  • heart palpitations
  • dizziness or confusion
  • loss of consciousness
  • slurred speech
  • difficulty walking

Common Causes of Severe Allergies

A person can be allergic to almost anything, but most allergens do not cause a serious reaction. The three most common causes of severe allergic reactions are food, medications, and insect venom.


Food allergies usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • tree nuts
  • peanuts and peanut products
  • dairy
  • eggs
  • fish or shellfish
  • wheat
  • soy


Drug allergies are most frequently seen due to:

  • antibiotics, such as penicillin
  • sulfa drugs
  • anticonvulsants
  • insulin, especially from animal sources
  • X-ray contrast dyes


Insects whose venom can cause severe allergic reactions include:

  • wasps
  • bees
  • hornets
  • yellowjackets
  • fire ants

Got Allergies?

If you or your child suffers from one or more serious allergies, your first line of defense is to avoid the cause of the allergy. Of course, this isn’t always possible. It is critical to develop an action plan in case a severe reaction occurs.

What’s an Action Plan?

An action plan is a flow chart or a step-by-step set of directions that you can give to others to guide them on what to do if you or your child experiences a severe allergic reaction. A typical action plan usually includes the following:

  • a list of allergies
  • minor symptoms to monitor
  • serious symptoms to treat immediately
  • detailed instructions for treatment and when to call emergency services

If You Have the Allergy

If you’re the one with the allergy, you should develop the action plan for your family members, coworkers (or classmates), and others you interact with on a regular basis. Make sure those people are aware of your allergy and the location of the plan.

If Your Child Has the Allergy

If your child has the allergy, the action plan should be given to teachers, caregivers, friends, parents of friends, and anyone else your child spends time with. Any time your child spends time with someone new, make sure that person knows about the allergy and the action plan.

Why Is an Action Plan Important?

Quite simply, an action plan could save your life, or that of your child. When a serious allergic reaction occurs, it’s immediately following exposure to the allergen. Time is of the essence, and the one experiencing the reaction may be unable to explain what is happening to them at that moment. A detailed action plan takes any guesswork out of treating the reaction, and reduces the stress on those around you.

Resources for Action Plan Templates

A number of reputable websites offer free action plan templates. You can just fill in the blanks according to your unique situation, or use the template to create your own action plan specifically tailored to your needs. Some good resources for action plan templates include: