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Anaphylaxis - when an allergy can be really dangerous

allergy; anaphylaxis; reaction; allergic; rash; EpiPen;


What is anaphylaxis?

allergyHave you ever had an allergy (say al-er-gee) to something? Did your body show that you had come into contact with something that it didn't like?

Well, some people are so allergic to something that their bodies react so quickly and in several different ways that their lives can be in danger. Doctors call this severe allergic reaction 'anaphylaxis' (say anna-fill-ax-is)

One in 10 children in Australia have an allergy to something that they have come in contact with - but very few of them have an anaphylactic reaction.

What are the causes?

There are four main causes.

1. Allergy to food

The most common triggers of anaphylaxis are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish, shellfish and soy. However, rarely, other types of food can be a trigger to some people.

It's just peanut butter!!

Even the tiniest amount of a trigger food can cause some people to be really sick. Even being anywhere near their trigger food can make a few people really sick, even if they do not put it into their mouths.

2. Allergy to insect bites and stings.


The most common insect causes of severe allergic reactions are bee stings, wasp stings and jumper ant stings. Sometimes ticks and fire ants can be a problem too.


3. Allergy to latex (say lay-tex), a kind of rubber which may be used for gloves, some types of first aid dressings or toys, etc.

4. Allergies to some medicines such as penicillin (say pen-i-sil-in) or aspirin.

Severe allergies to other things are pretty rare, and it can be very difficult to find out what caused the reaction.

What does it look like?

If someone is having an allergic reaction to something, they may have one or more of the following signs.

  • A tingling feeling in and around the mouth.
  • Hives or red blotches on the skin.
  • The face, lips, eyes swell up and look puffy.
  • Feeling sick or actually vomiting.

If someone is having a severe reaction or anaphylaxis, then the signs will be very easily seen.

  • Breathing is hard because there is swelling in the throat or tubes leading to the lungs (trachea [say track-ee-a] and bronchi [say bron-key]),
    • the person may have a croaky voice or not be able to talk at all.
    • they may cough and wheeze.
  • The person could go pale, floppy and collapse (faint).
  • The person may have terribly itchy skin, where they are scratching and scratching to try to fix the itch.
  • There may be a rash or big itchy lumps on the skin.
  • There face may look very swollen up.
  • They may stop breathing - but this is very rare.

What to do

call an ambulance if your friend is having trouble breathingIf someone gets anaphylaxic reactions and they know that they have severe reactions to some things, they will probably have a special medicine called an EpiPen. This gives an injection of adrenaline (say add-ren-a- lin).

Some older children are trained to give the injection themselves, but mostly an adult needs to give it.

If someone at school starts swelling up, wheezing and scratching tell a teacher straight away. The teacher will give the injection and call an ambulance. Teachers are trained to give these injections.

If you are with your friend outside school and she or he is having difficulty breathing, then tell the nearest adult to call an ambulance on 000. The person answering the phone will be able to send an ambulance, and also be able to give instructions on what to do.

Anaphylaxis is dangerous and your friend will need medical attention straight away.

Do you know?

Do you know that adrenaline is the chemical that your body produces when you are scared and need to fight or run away from danger? It makes your heart pump harder and faster and sends energy quickly round to your muscles so that they can be more powerful and get you out of danger.
energy to your muscles

Kids say

allergic to peanuts"I am allergic to bee stings so I had to have some medicine. I have some at school and some at home. My mum always has some when we go out just in case."

"I am allergic to peanuts so I can't have anything with peanuts in. Mum reads all the labels on food because sometimes there are peanuts in things and it makes me so sick that she has to use the EpiPen to make me better again and I have to go to hospital too."

"We have two kids in our class who are allergic to peanuts so we made a rule that no-one brings peanuts or food that contains peanuts (like peanut butter) to school. We don't want our friends to get sick."

Dr Kate says:

Dr KateAbout 1 in every hundred kids have one or more episodes of anaphylaxis. Most only have this reaction once, but some have it many times. Most kids grow out of this reaction if it is caused by food, but if it is caused by something like a bee sting they may be really sensitive all their life.

Because the heart and lungs are affected anaphylaxis is very dangerous. If there is a kid in your class who has this problem your teacher will have told you what that kid is allergic to so that everyone can take care to protect their friend from being sick.

If you know that you have such a severe allergy then never share food and make sure that your friends all know so that you never get into contact with whatever you are allergic to.

It is a good idea to wear a special bracelet which has what you are allergic to written on it so that people know how to help you.

The site of Anaphylaxis Australia has a lot more information about anaphylaxis and the things that can help protect people from a severe allergic reaction. This site also shows 'Food Alerts' to help people who have food allergies. 

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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