A frightening thing happened to me last night and I feel the need to share this story with you. My thirteen-year-old son Odysseas had a severe allergic reaction to something he ate. It happened so fast and I pride myself as being the health expert in our family, but this took me completely by surprise, as I never thought for a minute with all his symptoms that he was going into anaphylaxis.
I am forever humbled.
We wrote a post on food allergies a few stories back as I’ve always been curious about them and their causes. I have a few close friends whose children are severely allergic and I’ve had many conversations with them on this topic. The strangest one being on the day it happened literally an hour before the episode. I was in a car with a girlfriend returning from a fun day out with our boys and we were talking about allergies, children and her 4 year old being severely allergic to nuts. As usual, I asked her about all of the symptoms, the first episode, how it happened and what to look for.
When we returned home, we decided to order sushi from a well-known sushi place. Literally three minutes after finishing his sushi box (California rolls) Ody complained of a stomach ache and then starts to cough uncontrollably. Almost in sync with the cough, the wheezing starts immediately. I couldn’t put two and two together and thought he was wheezing because of bad hay fever in England this summer. I feel awful because my brain wasn’t putting the scenario together, nor was I worried (at that stage). He continued to cough and was spitting out quite a bit of phlegm. This is when I had my husband call the doctor.
Odysseas couldn’t really explain what he was feeling and I asked him a few times if he felt that he wasn’t getting enough air in. About 5 minutes go by with my husband on the phone to the doctor explaining the symptoms. He was now getting quite red in the face, a rash had appeared and his lips were going purple. That’s when we, with the doctor on the phone, decided to get him to A&E fast.
Within three minutes of arriving at A&E and doing a first assessment, he was quickly moved to a room, weighed and given an intravenous hydrocortisone and chlorphenamine injection, a shot of IM Adrenaline, then 10 puffs of Ventolin through a Spacer to relieve the wheezing and breathing difficulty, followed by an antihistamine.
His colour returned immediately.
The nurses and doctors were amazing and acted so fast and kept him incredibly calm. From the time of the first symptoms to the A&E and Ody getting his first shot, 30 minutes had elapsed. I dread to think what may have happened if left any longer.
It was then that Ody explained what he had felt. In his words:
“I knew something wasn’t right after finishing the sushi box, I had a bad stomach ache that felt as if I was full and not great. I started coughing in fits and couldn’t stop, I couldn’t get any air into my lungs, it felt like I was breathing through a straw. My throat hurt and I felt there was a ball in the back of my throat that I couldn’t get out. I was trying to get stuff out of my throat and mouth. My eyes and face felt like they were swelling up. I felt hot and thought I was turning as red as a tomato. I really felt like this was it. Something terrible. I couldn’t express the feeling as it was happening all at once.”
At the time, I struggled to figure out that his symptoms were an anaphylactic reaction, but now I know that there are so many different shapes and forms of anaphylaxis. Here’s what to look out for if you or anyone around you is in that situation, as symptoms develop suddenly and can get worse frighteningly quickly.
- Feeling lightheaded or faint
- Breathing difficulties – such as fast, shallow breathing
- A fast heartbeat
- Clammy skin
- Confusion and anxiety
- A sense of impending doom
- Collapsing or losing consciousness
- Stomach pain
If someone goes into an anaphylactic shock, seek medical help immediately as it could be fatal if not treated quickly.
- Use an adrenaline auto-injector if the person has one – but make sure you know how to use it correctly first
- Call 999 for an ambulance immediately (even if they start to feel better) – mention that you think the person has anaphylaxis
- Remove any trigger if possible – for example, carefully remove any wasp or bee sting stuck in the skin
- Lie the person down flat – unless they’re unconscious, pregnant or having breathing difficulties
- Give another injection after 5-15 minutes if the symptoms don’t improve and a second auto-injector is available
Common anaphylaxis triggers include:
- Foods – including nuts, milk, fish, shellfish, eggs and some fruits
- Medicines – including some antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin
- Insect stings – particularly wasp and bee stings
- General anaesthetic
- Contrast agents – special dyes used in some medical tests to help certain areas of your Body show up better on scans
- Latex – a type of rubber found in some rubber gloves
Ody now has to carry two adrenaline auto-injectors with him at all times. It is so important to have two pens in case one fails to work (out of date or if one is less effective). The doctors still need to look into triggers when he’s feeling better which involves a skin prick test and a blood test. Once the triggers are identified hopefully we will be able to prevent this happening in the future.
My advice to you is to make sure you’re clued up on the symptoms, and how to react in such a situation. No child or parent should ever have to go through this!
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