How to Treat Life-Threatening Allergies

Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on January 19, 2020

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that needs emergency medical treatment. It can happen in seconds or even hours after contact with something you’re allergic to, like certain foods, insect venom, latex, or medication. In rare cases, exercise and physical activity also can trigger it.

Call 911 immediately if you think someone's having symptoms of anaphylaxis. These may include:

If the person has an epinephrine injector, don’t wait to use it, even if you aren’t sure the symptoms are allergy-related. It won’t hurt them and may save their life. The drug will stop symptoms for a few minutes, but it isn’t a cure. Call 911, even if they seem to be OK after getting the epinephrine. They may need more medical treatment.

How to Use Epinephrine

This strong, fast-acting medication is given with an easy-to-use auto-injector. It's available by prescription only.

  1. Inject the drug at the first sign of a reaction, and call 911 right away. Don’t move the person unless they are in an unsafe place.
  2. Have them sit down, lie down, or stay in the most comfortable position for breathing.
  3. Stay calm.
  4. Be aware that epinephrine can make you feel jumpy, boost your heart rate and make you feel a little sick. It won’t last long if it happens.
  5. If an insect stinger is involved, remove it with a gentle brushing motion. Don’t pinch the stinger. That could release more venom.
  6. Listen and watch to make sure they are breathing.
  7. If you’re trained in CPR, give it if needed. If they have asthma as well as allergies, you can give them their inhaler, but only after they haver had the epinephrine.
  8. You can give a second shot of epinephrine if the symptoms don’t go away.

How to Care for an Auto-Injector

  • Keep the device in a dark place and at room temperature.
  • Check the expiration date often. If it’s expired, replace it. But remember, it's better to use expired epinephrine in an emergency than nothing at all.
  • If the auto-injector has a window, check the liquid. If it isn’t clear, replace the unit.
  • Keep more than one auto-injector with you at all times. Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.

What to Do if Your Kid Has One

  • Write an anaphylaxis emergency action plan for their teachers and other adults they spends time with. Go over it with them.
  • Keep two auto-injectors at school in case they need them. Be certain the school nurse stores and uses epinephrine properly.
  • Get them a medical alert bracelet.
WebMD Medical Reference



American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology: "Resources for Parents."

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Anaphylaxis."

Department of Homeland Security Public Health Division: "Treatment of Severe Allergic Reaction."

KidsHealth: "Food Allergies."

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