Children’s Allergic Reactions: What’s Severe?

What You Should Know

Many kids have allergies. As a parent, you'll want to know what to expect.

For instance, if your child has a mild allergy, such as hay fever, you can expect symptoms such as:

These symptoms can make your child feel bad, but it's not life-threatening.

But sometimes a child can have what's known as anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that needs immediate medical treatment. Many cases are caused by food allergies, medications, or insect stings.

Do you know what to watch for?

Anaphylaxis Symptoms

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


Heart and Blood Vessels



  • Swelling of the throat, face, lips, or tongue

Stomach and Digestion

What Happens During Anaphylaxis?

The person's airways narrow and their throat swells, which can make it hard to breathe. Their blood vessels widen, making their blood pressure fall, sometimes to dangerous levels.

Anaphylactic reactions usually happen fast. Symptoms often become the most serious within 3 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 injector. 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 one shot of the drug and dial 911. Even if you are not sure the symptoms are allergy related, don’t hesitate to give her the injection. Waiting can be much more harmful than the medication. She may need more than one dose, so be prepared to follow up with another within 10 to 20 minutes.

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. Always call 911 or get to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible.

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

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on October 11, 2017



CDC: "Food Allergy Among U.S. Children: Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations."

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology: "Allergy Statistics."

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology: "Anaphylaxis."

Krouse, J., Derebery, M., Chadwick, S. Managing the Allergic Patient. 1st ed., Saunders Elsevier, 2007.

Rudders, S. Pediatrics, April 2010.

World Allergy Organization: "Anaphylaxis."

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