Would you know a serious allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock if you saw it?

Yesterday I would have said yes, unequivocally.  My son has been anaphylactic (meaning life threatening reaction) to so many foods since he was 9 months old, that I made it my business to be on top of it.  We never go anywhere without Benadryl and epi-pens, however up until this time we’ve never had to use more than Benadryl, and that was always as a precaution. One or two hives, or some itchiness.  No worries.

Well today I was in for the shock of my life, literally.  And I tell this story so all of you mommas out there will be careful, and diligent and watch your child closely! 

Today was allergy shot day.  Isaiah has been getting allergy shots for a year.  We brought Candyland with us to wait out our post shot 20 minutes.  After his shots he was complaining it hurt.  Not to common with him, he’s a trooper, but I chalked it up to wanting some attention.  He then said he was cold and could he put on his jacket, I agreed because there was a slight draft form the overzealous air conditioner.  Then it was time for Candyland.  He was quiet, not getting as excited as normal, asking me to move his pieces for him.  He won a couple of times, we played three games and it was time to go.  As per doctor’s instructions, I always check the injection sites before we leave.  Arm one, good.  Arm two, not so good, two giant hives were flourishing.  So we walked in to the shot nurses office and I showed her.  She asked if there were anymore and I said no.  She asked Isaiah how he was feeling, he said “fine”. So she said, sit outside for 10 more minutes and let’s see how it goes.  As he turned around to walk out we saw 4 more welts on the back of his neck.  At this time we called the doctor in, we were quickly escorted to a room and then what I had managed to so skillfully avoid as far as food allergies went, for so many years, occurred as a result of environmental allergy shots. 

My son was going into anaphylactic shock. 

What?  But he keeps saying he’s fine. 

But his blood pressure is dropping. 

But he says he’s fine. 

But he has hives all over now, and they are growing. 


Well he wasn’t fine.  He’s 7, and apparently a 7-year-old is not ready to answer detailed questions about his health.  Yes he admitted to being itchy, but he’s always itchy.  Other than that all he could say was I’m fine.  The nurse, whom I truly trust, said “look at him, he’s not fine.”  And so I really looked.  His skin and lips were pale, his eyelids were slightly puffy and under his eyes they were red and puffy.  He was moving a little strangely, and I had noticed all of those odd things right after the shot, that I chalked up to moodiness.  Oh yes, and let’s not forget the hives!

First step, mega dose of Zyrtec.  It did nothing, and he continued to get worse.  Then came the dreaded epi-pen.  I had avoided the epi-pen for 5 and a half years!  And now, in the doctor’s office, to control his allergy shots no less, the dreaded epi!  Poor Isaiah, I had promised him no shots.  The minute he heard he started bawling.  Another indication that this resilient kid was not OK.  If you’ve ever seen anyone get an Epinephrine injection you know it’s not a pretty site.  Basically it looks like the person is dying.  Literally all color is drained from their body.  Then they start to heave, and often throw up.  Then they start to shake and can’t stay still, although they have too to get their blood pressure up.

The nurses seemed a little panicky when they looked at him.  He had to lie with his feet elevated.  After about 15 minutes his color returned, and honestly, to look at him you would think nothing happened. 

But it did.  And you should know it. 

Because I thought anaphylactic shock would be obvious, I thought he’d be gasping for air, I thought his throat would close, or his tongue would swell. I thought he’d be covered in a rash or hives.  I thought he’d be throwing up.  I thought it would be plain as day.  Well it’s not.

When he was better I asked him if he could explain how he felt when he started to feel bad.  He said “I admit I felt bad, but I could not tell you how.  But now I feel great!”  So he was always “fine”  but he wasn’t “fine.”  Now he was great, and the horror show was over.

If you have an allergic child, please take this to heart.  If I had left the Dr’s office before the 20 minutes, or without checking his arms.  We’d be in the hospital right now.  The “mild” anaphylactic shock he was experiencing would have turned not so mild pretty quickly.  Anaphylactic shock kills.  And this could have just as easily been a food reaction.  I could have brushed off the itchiness, or the one or two hives, as him being an allergic child.

Here’s my mantra.  You are your child’s only advocate, if you don’t look after them no one will.  If you have an allergic child it is your duty to be hyper vigilant.  Don’t think it can’t happen to you.  I thought that. I was wrong. And always, ALWAYS, carry your epi-pens and benadryl WHEREVER you go!

10 thoughts on “Would you know a serious allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock if you saw it?

  1. Oh, how very scary, but I’m so glad you shared! I’ve seen a few times where people have had reactions that have initially been overlooked. My husband even saved a girl’s life once because he noticed a reaction that everyone else missed and insisted on driving her to the hospital (with her parents, of course) because she was definitely NOT ok (and I was so unbelievably proud of him for doing so!).

    I have been around food allergies, I have been around seasonal allergies and bug allergies – I’ve seen them go from mildly bad to so much worse in a hurry. They aren’t always obvious…unless you know what to look for. This post may be life saving, so again – thank you for sharing it! (I found it through Allergy Free Wednesdays.)

    • Thanks you for commenting! I really believe this post could be life saving too. It’s funny, how I am so nonchalant about hives, because when I see them I know what to do. That I can handle, but it’s those insidious little sneaky symptoms we have to keep our eyes out for!

      • I know what you mean. My oldest has a exaggerated swelling issue when it comes to bug bites. A few times he’s been bitten on or near the neck and had some trouble breathing/swallowing. I was able to not panic (he wasn’t even diagnosed at the time, so no epi-pen), get the meds in him he needed and keep an eye on him. Thankfully, they worked, but I knew to take him to the hospital if things didn’t improve in a hurry. We have an epi-pen for him now which we’ve not had to use, and we now have new procedures if he gets bitten which we have had to use. It’s wild how your mind can go to total calm when you have to stay focused for your kids, even though you want to totally freak out. I don’t know if everyone is like that, but I know that’s how it is for me. And, you’re right – you can’t ignore the “small” things. If something seems out of place or off, it probably is so pay attention!

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  4. I am adult with a life threatening allergy to grass. Two years of allergy shots and all was great. Third year I had severe allergic reaction to my shot (911 called by the Doctor) Shots were cancelled for that year and the Specialist wanted to try the next year. At that point I could still mow the lawn and weed the garden without issues. The next season we tried the shots again and sure enough, allergic reaction (epipen needed). As a result I became hyper sensitive to freshly mowed grass. Saw the “specialist” again and he did a scratch test again. I started to react to the test and he brushed it off and said no I wasn’t. My arm was so swollen and itchy, hives on my chest and face, trouble breathing etc. and he refused to acknowledge my reaction (inhaler and liquid benedryll got it under control). Needless to say no more shots for me and my life will never be the same. This new wonder pill they are all talking about to replace the shots has me very concerned as you take it at home and there is no one to observe you and who will help you if you have a reaction??? I am currently looking for others who have had a similar reaction and now live with a life threatening allergy to grass and how they deal with it. P.S. I always carry 2 epipens, inhaler and liquid benedryll and take Aerius every day and still have reactions.

  5. Thank you for this. We started our allergy shot treatments in March, and 2 days ago we had our first negative reaction (small hives). I wanted to see what “could” happen when I found your page. Thank you for writing this – now I know I’m being the right amount of cautious.

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