Children’s Allergic Reactions: What’s Severe?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on February 15, 2024
3 min read

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, which is usually seasonal such as in the springo or fall, 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?

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

Signs are problems that someone notices. Symptoms are what a person is feeling.


Heart and Blood Vessels



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

Stomach and Digestion

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.

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 themselves. Ask their doctor if they are ready for that.

Make sure there is also a policy in place for before- and after-school activities.

As soon as possible after the allergic reaction starts, give the child one shot of the drug and dial 911. Even if you are not sure the symptoms are allergy related, don’t hesitate to give them the injection. Waiting can be much more harmful than the medication. They 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.