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Tips for Athletes With Life-Threatening Allergies

Whether your children play baseball, soccer, basketball, football, or do other activities, you want them to be safe while having fun.

Many children have allergies. Most cases are mild, but there can be severe allergic reactions, which doctors call anaphylaxis. Food allergies and insect stings are among the most common triggers. In some cases, children can have anaphylaxis if they are exposed to certain allergy triggers before or during exercise.

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Symptoms of exercise-induced anaphylaxis include:

  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Choking sensation
  • Wheezing
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Many of those symptoms can happen for other reasons. Anaphylaxis, though, needs immediate medical treatment. Being active is good for all kids. With planning, a child with severe allergies can still take part. These six tips should help.

  1. Visit an allergist. Take your child to an allergy specialist. They can do tests to find out what your child is allergic to, how severe the allergy is, prescribe medication, and give you advice about avoiding allergy triggers.
  2. Take the sting out of flying insects. Protect kids who are highly allergic to bees, wasps, and other stinging insects with a technique called desensitization (or immunotherapy). During desensitization, at an allergist's office, a tiny amount of insect venom is injected under your child's skin. The allergist gradually increases the amount of venom over a period of about 3 months, until your child can tolerate the allergen. Desensitization can be very effective at controlling insect allergies.
  3. Check on whether your child should carry epinephrine shots. Not all kids with allergies need these, but children who are severely allergic to insect stings or certain foods should carry two epinephrine injections with them to the field. Your allergist can see if one is appropriate for your child and show you how to use it. You, your child's teacher or caregiver, and your child should also know how to use it. Kids with severe seasonal allergies can take antihistamines or get allergy shots ahead of time so that pollen doesn't sideline them during the spring.
  4. Have a plan. Your child needs an allergy plan, in writing, signed by you and your allergist. The plan should list your child's allergy triggers, symptoms, and medications. Give a copy of the plan to your child's coaches and school.
  5. Pack your child's food. The safest way for kids with severe food allergies to eat on the road is to pack food from home. That way, you know it does not have any trigger foods in it. Make sure your child knows what foods they have to avoid, in case they're offered food when you're not around.
  6. Be ready, just in case. Your child may never have an anaphylactic reaction. Still, every adult who is caring for your child needs to know the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction and what to do if it happens. They should also know that an epinephrine injection does not cure an anaphylactic reaction. It will only hold off severe symptoms for about 10 to 15 minutes. The coach or other adults need to know that they must call 911 right away and have your child taken to the nearest emergency room, even if they seem OK.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on February 12, 2014

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