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Treating Severe Allergic Reactions

Learn about available treatments for severe food allergy reactions

Symptoms of a food allergy reaction can affect different parts of the body. Severe symptoms include:

  • Lung: shortness of breath, wheezing, repetitive cough
  • Heart: pale, blue, faint, weak pulse, dizzy
  • Throat: tight, hoarse, trouble breathing/swallowing
  • Mouth: significant swelling of the tongue or lips
  • Skin: many hives over body, widespread redness
  • Gut: repetitive vomiting or severe diarrhea
  • Psychological: feeling something bad is about to happen, anxiety, confusion

Someone having a severe allergic reaction could have a combination of symptoms from different body areas. These symptoms can quickly progress to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that requires epinephrine.

Giving Epinephrine

Epinephrine is the only medication that can reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis. It is available in an easy-to-use auto-injector (Auvi-Q ®, EpiPen®, Generic Epinephrine Auto-Injector [Authorized Generic of EpiPen®] or Adrenaclick®).

Your allergist may prefer that epinephrine be used with only mild symptoms, or before symptoms even emerge. Consult with your doctor and refer to your personalized Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan.

  1. Use epinephrine at the first sign of a severe allergic reaction, or as prescribed.
  2. Call 911. Tell the dispatchers that you have used epinephrine to treat a suspected anaphylactic reaction to food. Request an ambulance with epinephrine on board.
  3. Go to the emergency room for further treatment, even if symptoms appear to resolve with the epinephrine. The person may need more medication or treatment to manage the reaction.

Safety of Epinephrine

Epinephrine is a safe and relatively harmless drug. When in doubt, use it! The risks of anaphylaxis outweigh any risks from giving the medication.

Take extra caution only with patients for whom an increased heart rate could be a problem. This includes elderly patients and those with known heart disease. But still use epinephrine to treat anaphylaxis in these people.

Other Treatments
Emergency Room Sign

Recognizing & Responding to anaphylaxis

Learn more about how to recognize and respond to anaphylaxis with this free training.

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