Allergy & Anaphylaxis

An allergy is an overreaction by the body’s immune system to a normally harmless substance. Substances that can trigger an allergic reaction are called allergens. Allergic reactions can occur to medication, insect stings and bites, allergens in the environment (e.g. pollens, grasses, moulds, dogs and cats), or proteins (most often) in the foods we eat. Individuals can have mild/moderate or severe allergies.

An allergy shouldn’t be confused with an intolerance, which does not involve the immune system.

In Australia, allergies are widespread. Around one in three people will develop allergies at some time during their life. The most common allergic conditions are food allergies, eczema, asthma and hay fever. Food allergy occurs in around ten per cent of children and approximately two per cent of adults.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and is potentially life-threatening. It must be treated as a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment and urgent medical attention.

Anaphylaxis is a generalised allergic reaction, which often involves more than one body system (e.g. skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular). A severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis usually occurs within 20 minutes to 2 hours of exposure to the trigger and can rapidly become life-threatening.

Common Symptoms

Mild to a moderate allergic reaction

  • Tingling of the mouth
  • Hives, welts or body redness
  • Swelling of the face, lips, eyes
  • Vomiting, abdominal pain

Severe allergic reaction- ANAPHYLAXIS

  • Difficult/noisy breathing
  • Swelling of the tongue
  • Swelling or tightness in the throat
  • Difficulty talking or hoarse voice
  • Wheeze or persistent cough
  • Persistent dizziness or collapse
  • Pale and floppy (young children)

Management & Treatment

Anaphylaxis is a preventable and treatable event. Knowing the triggers is the first step in prevention. Children and caregivers need to be educated on how to avoid food allergens and other triggers.

However, because accidental exposure is a reality, children and caregivers need to recognise symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction and be prepared to administer adrenaline according to the individual’s Action Plan for Anaphylaxis. 

School Nurse