Some people are severely allergic to certain foods, chemicals and medications, or to injected venoms following a bite or sting. An allergic reaction can be very severe, and can cause people to die.

Peanuts in any form are the most common food item that can cause a severe life-threatening allergic reaction in a sensitive individual. Many children are allergic to peanuts, and parents, child carers and teachers need to ensure that there is no accidental contact – e.g. through eating a friend’s lunch. These severe allergic reactions are known as anaphylactic shock. The reaction may vary from a body rash and slight wheezing, through to collapse and death.

Symptoms and signs – Not all may be present 

  • swelling of the face, especially around the mouth, throat and eyes 
  • swelling of the affected area if there has been contact with a chemical or venom (e.g. insect sting) 
  • redness of the skin or an itchy rash over the chest and back 
  • nausea and/or vomiting 
  • breathing difficulty similar to an asthma attack 
  • dizziness, weakness or collapse 
  • diarrhoea 

How you can help

1.      Stay with the patient and ensure total rest

  • If an allergic reaction is developing, the patient may suddenly collapse and needs to be managed as an unresponsive person. Sometimes CPR may be required.
  • Rest can slow the reaction and allow time for an ambulance to arrive.
  • Allow the patient to rest in the position of greatest comfort. Often the patient will want to sit up if there are breathing difficulties.

Call 111 for an ambulance if the person is showing signs of a severe allergic reaction, especially if they are having difficulty breathing; or if the patient is very unwell.

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2.      Give any prescribed medication or treatment

  • Some allergic patients carry prescribed medication with them in the form of a tablet, puffer or a self-administered injection of adrenaline (eg: EpiPen). If necessary, assist the patient to find and administer their prescribed dose of medication.
  • If the patient is too unwell to administer their own adrenaline, another person should do this for them, following the instructions on the pack. This should be done immediately if an allergic reaction is developing.
  • A second EpiPen can be administered (if available and normally carried by the patient) to patients with severe anaphylaxis whose symptoms are not relieved by the initial dose. The second dose is given if there is no response 5 minutes after the initial dose.

3.      If the reaction follows exposure to a chemical

  • Wash the contact area thoroughly with copious amounts of water.

4.      Observe the patient closely

  • While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, observe the patient closely for any change in condition.
  • If the patient becomes unresponsive and is breathing normally, lay them on their side.
  • Be prepared to begin CPR if the patient is unresponsive and not breathing normally.


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