Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


5 Things Moms of Kids with Allergies Should Know

Because knowledge helps tame the fear

5 Things Moms of Kids with Allergies Should Know

When your child is diagnosed with a severe allergy (like a severe allergy to bee stings, for example, or peanuts) it can be terrifying. The only way to cope with that fear is by arming yourself with knowledge. Here are five commonly asked questions about serious allergies in kids.

1. What are the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction?

If you’ve had little to no experience with anaphylactic reactions, it can be scary to know what to look for. The truth is, it can happen fast and deteriorate quickly (possibly turning life-threatening in a matter of minutes). So it’s important to have a clear idea in your mind of the typical symptoms anaphylaxis causes, which include:

  • itchy mouth, swelling of the lips and/or tongue
  • throat itching, tightness, closure, hoarseness
  • hives, itchy skin, redness, swelling
  • vomiting, diarrhea, cramps
  • shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing
  • weak pulse, dizziness, passing out from low blood pressure

The onset of symptoms, after exposure to the allergy trigger, can take mere minutes…or they can occur several hours later. In some cases (about 20% of the time) there can be a second phase of reaction that flares after the initial reaction has subsided. This can happen one to eight hours later, but it can occur up to 38 hours later.

2. What can I do to keep my child safe at school?

Sending a kid with severe allergies to school can be nerve-wracking, to say the least. But with some advanced planning, there’s no reason you can’t send your child to school, confident that they will be safe. Here's your action plan:

  • First, inform your child's school about their severe allergy.
  • Be sure your child is aware of the allergy triggers they need to avoid. They should also be able to recognize the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction.
  • Arrange to have safe snacks and non-perishable foods kept at school for your child so they have something to eat if they forget their lunch at home, or if there’s a special occasion at school that involves food.
  • Meet with food service staff to discuss their allergy policies and menu items.
  • Put together an Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan. Here's where you can find one to download and complete.
  • Make sure your child always has an up-to-date EpiPen Auto-Injector on hand.

3.  When should I start teaching my child about their allergy?

It’s important to start talking to your child about their allergy right away. There’s no benefit to withholding this information. They may not, of course, fully understand until they're a little older, but they will be able to grasp some of the key concepts. Your child should understand the seriousness of the allergy, the triggers and situations they should avoid, and how they can explain the allergy to classmates. You should also talk to them about recognizing the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. In particular, it’s important that your child knows they should not trade or share food, utensils, or food containers. They should also wash their hands before and after eating, and put their food on a personal placemat or napkin.

Kids who are mature enough (usually around age 6 or 7) should have their own epinephrine auto-injector, like EpiPen, on them at all times. Younger kids will need to have a member of school staff carry an EpiPen, or have one available in the classroom.

4.  How do I prepare for a possible reaction?

Have an emergency plan already prepared (see above) and have emergency numbers and contacts readily available.

It’s crucial that you always have a ready-to-use EpiPen on hand. But you need to know that EpiPen Auto-Injectors expire. In our busy lives, it's easy to lose track of a small detail like an expiration date. So here’s a simple way to take care of this: register for the Expiration Reminder Service at EpiPen.ca.

5.  Do I have to be certain my child is having an anaphylactic reaction before administering an EpiPen?

It’s a common question, and a common fear—how will I know FOR SURE whether I should use my child’s EpiPen? And the short answer is: you don’t have to be sure. The very first signs of a severe allergic emergency can be difficult to interpret. But hesitating to use an EpiPen can be life-threatening. Seconds count, when it comes to severe allergic and anaphylactic reactions. Even if it turns out your child wasn't having an allergic reaction, it's better to have used an EpiPen in this situation than to have not used an EpiPen in a real emergency. A good rule of thumb: if you're even considering using it, that means you should go ahead and use it.

Severe allergies in a kid are a serious matter—but fear of a reaction shouldn't cause a kid to miss out on the wonderful experiences of childhood like school and playdates with friends. There are many strategies to prevent exposure, effective ways to deal with a reaction should one occur, and plenty of support and information.

Severe allergies are on the rise in Canada.
We teamed up with EpiPen so you can arm yourself with information and be prepared if a life-threatening allergic reaction occurs.
You can find out more about life-threatening allergies and read stories from other parents on our A Parent’s Guide to Dealing with Kids with Severe Allergies page.