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Allergic Reactions: What’s Normal, What’s Not

Allergy Symptoms: What's Normal

Childhood allergies are common and usually not life-threatening. But sometimes a child can have what’s known as anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that needs immediate medical treatment.

As a parent of a child with allergies, you need to learn the difference between symptoms of mild allergic reactions and an anaphylactic reaction. And you should know what to do if your child has an anaphylactic reaction.

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Kids with mild allergies (like seasonal allergies) will usually have these symptoms:

  • Watery, runny eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • An itchy rash or hives

These symptoms usually aren't a danger. But stay on the lookout for more serious allergy symptoms (see below), especially in kids who have a history of asthma and severe allergic reactions.

Anaphylaxis Symptoms

Most anaphylactic reactions have symptoms from two or more areas of the body. 

  • Lungs:
    • Trouble breathing or noisy breathing
    • Coughing, wheezing
    • Sneezing
    • Congestion
    • Tightness in the lungs
    • Hoarseness
  • Heart and Blood Vessels
    • Chest pain
    • Low blood pressure
    • Weak, rapid pulse
    • Dizziness, fainting
  • Skin
    • Pale or flushed skin
    • Hives or welts
    • Itchy skin
    • Sweating
  • Mouth
    • Swelling of the throat, face, lips, or tongue
  • Stomach and Digestion
    • Abdominal pain
    • Nausea, vomiting
    • Diarrhea


What Causes Anaphylaxis?

In anaphylaxis, a child has a severe reaction to an allergy trigger. Many cases are caused by food allergies or insect stings.

Their airways narrow and their throat swells, which can block breathing. Their blood vessels widen, making their blood pressure fall, sometimes to dangerous levels.

Anaphylactic reactions usually happen fast. Symptoms often get the most severe within three to 30 minutes of exposure to the allergy trigger. Quicker reactions are usually more severe.

Be Prepared

A child who has had a severe allergic reaction should carry an emergency kit that includes an epinephrine auto-injector.

You should know how to use the pen. So should your child's teacher. Your child may also be old enough to use it on herself. Ask her doctor if she’s ready for that.

As soon as possible after the allergic reaction starts, give the child at least one shot of the drug. She may need more than one.

The injection isn’t a cure. It won’t stop a severe allergic reaction. Even if your child seems OK, emergency medical care is a must.

Restock any items you use from the emergency kit so it's ready at all times. Like all drugs, epinephrine does have an expiration date, so check the dates on each pen.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Luqman Seidu, MD on December 22, 2014

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