Written by Sam Mackay, First Aid Trainer from KeepaBeat First Aid.
One of the most common subjects I get asked to cover as a First Aid trainer is the topic of allergies and on coping with allergic reactions.
Over the last few years information given to parents about allergies, weaning and introducing solid foods has changed considerably, which seems to have led to many parents feeling confused and sometimes nervous about when to introduce these foods into baby’s diet.
On Monday Charlotte posted a blog all about introducing allergens during weaning. When to introduce allergen risk foods, what to offer first and how to go about offering them. Check out the blog here for more information on this topic.
Having an allergic reaction:
However, IF your little one does have an allergic reaction, it’s important to know what to look out for and how to react…
First up – Signs of an allergic reaction
Allergies can cause mild, moderate or severe symptoms and may appear all over the body or may just affect several separate areas. Reactions can be persistent and may have no obvious cause.
Whilst some children that suffer from allergic reactions will have similar symptoms each time there is no guarantee that a mild reaction won’t trigger a more severe/serious reaction another time.
There’s a greater risk of life-threatening reactions (anaphylaxis) with immediate-type reactions (IgE mediated). Symptoms occur within seconds or minutes of eating.
What symptoms should you out look for…
It’s hard to sometimes understand what a young child is going through in regard to allergy symptoms. They may not be able to describe how they feel or even be at an age where they can vocalise it at all. Some of the signs below are easier to spot than others.
- Runny/blocked nose
- Red itchy/watery eyes
- Wheezing/coughing – worsening asthma
- A red itchy rash – worsening eczema
- Swollen lips, face or eyes
- Itchy/tingling mouth
- Hives or itchy skin rash
- Abdominal pain or vomiting
- Sudden change in behaviour
Action/treatment (for mild/moderate)
Many of the symptoms above can be caused by other common childhood illnesses and, as a result, allergies can often be missed as we put these symptoms down to other things.
- However, if you do notice these symptoms above, stop giving baby the food and remove the food that you think is causing it (the ‘trigger’).
- If you’re unsure if your baby’s reaction is moderate or severe, you can always call 999 to check.
- For immediate-type reactions (that happen instantly) remove the trigger (if known) and administer antihistamine as long as your baby is over 1 – chat with your GP about which antihistamines are suitable for your child.
- If your baby is under 1 and has a reaction, remove the trigger and seek medical advice.
- Antihistamines are not suitable to children under the age of 1 unless prescribed by a medical professional.
It’s always best to seek medical advice if you think your baby is allergic to any food.
Severe (ANAPHYLAXSIS) reaction
Airway Problems –
- Persistent cough
- Hoarse voice
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swollen tongue
Breathing problems –
- Difficult or noisy breathing
- Wheeze or persistent cough
Consciousness problems –
- Persistent dizziness
- Pale or floppy
- Suddenly sleepy
Action Plan/treatment for Anaphylaxis
If your child has any of the symptoms above …
- Lay them down with legs up (sit them up if breathing is difficult)
- Use prescribed autoinjector pen if available
- Dial 999 and state Anaphylaxis (ANA-FIL-AX-IS)
- Do not stand the casualty up
- Start CPR if the casualty is unresponsive and not breathing normally
- If there is no improvement a further autoinjector pen can be given after 5 minutes
If your child has had a severe reaction you will be referred to an allergy specialist for further testing and advice. If your child is prescribed an auto injector pen you should carry it with you and your child at all times.
The BSACI have developed some allergy action plans that can be used for children when traveling with an auto-injector pen and for use within schools. They will be completed by a health care professional
First Aid Advice Once an allergy is diagnosed:
Having taught 1000’s of parents and childcare workers how and when to use an auto injector pen the majority have expressed that before their training they did not feel confident is using the pen or when would be the right time to use it.
The key message is – if in doubt always administer the auto injector – it’s better to use the pen and find out you didn’t need to than to not use it and find out you should have!
Take some time to learn how to use your child’s auto injector pen. If possible, attend a first aid course that specifically covers in detail anaphylaxis signs and symptoms and the use of all 3 auto injector pens currently used in the UK. Learning how and when to use the pen will help to make you feel more confident in an emergency situation. Ideally learn when and how to administer CPR too. Make sure your whole family are aware of the signs of a reaction and when to administer medication and auto injector pens.
Non-allergy reactions to foods:
Not all reactions to food are because of allergies. Many children react to foods that irritate the skin around the mouth (the area may become red and sore). For example, tomatoes, strawberries and citrus fruits. This does not indicate a food allergy and avoiding the food is not necessary. This reaction is common in children with sensitive skin and eczema and popping on a barrier cream like an emollient moisturiser will help to reduce the contact reaction.