Allergies happen when your child's immune system mistakenly treats normally harmless substances as 'harmful'. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction which needs urgent medical treatment.


What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening - it's an emergency which needs immediate treatment.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and can be life-threatening.

Anaphylaxis is an emergency that needs immediate treatment with an injection of a medicine called adrenaline (epinephrine). This is the medicine in automatic injectors such as the EpiPen®.

A child or young person with anaphylaxis needs to lie down - they must not stand or walk. If breathing is difficult, let them sit.

Phone 111 within New Zealand for an ambulance (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries). 

Watch an EpiClub Mylan video on how to use EpiPen®. The video shows an adult using an EpiPen® - you can follow the same steps for a child.

What are the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis?

The signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • difficulty breathing or noisy breathing
  • swelling of the tongue
  • swelling or tightness in the throat
  • difficulty talking or a hoarse voice
  • wheeze or a cough that doesn't stop
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • loss of consciousness or collapse
  • being pale and floppy (in young children)
  • tummy pain or vomiting in children with insect allergy

How long does it take for anaphylaxis symptoms to occur?

The symptoms can happen within seconds of coming into contact with the allergen, or can take up to 2 hours to happen.

Can there be any warning signs before anaphylaxis?

In some cases, less dangerous allergic symptoms appear before anaphylaxis. These include:

  • swelling of the face, lips and eyes
  • hives or welts on the skin
  • tummy pain, vomiting
  • a feeling of 'doom' or a young child becoming quiet or clingy

What influences how severe anaphylaxis is?

Several things can influence how severe anaphylaxis is, including:

  • exercise
  • heat
  • in food-allergic people, the amount of allergen they have eaten and how the food was prepared
  • not enough sleep
  • having alcohol or drugs 

Severe allergic reactions require urgent medical attention.

Allergic reaction or anaphylaxis action plan

All tamariki (children) with food and insect sting allergy need to have an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis action plan explaining how to manage an allergic reaction. 

Tamariki with food allergy need follow up to see whether their food allergies are going away. ASCIA (the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy) has developed several action plans for use in Australia and New Zealand.

See the various action plans at the ASCIA website.

See the KidsHealth page on allergy for more information on allergies in children

This page last reviewed 08 April 2024.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it