Life with Food Allergies: Surprise Anaphylactic Shock

I think that I can say with confidence that every anaphylactic shock experience is a surprise.  It’s not something you plan and it’s certainly not something that you want to happen, kind of like a car accident.  For the person who is prepared though, ani attacks can be prevented in the first place by avoiding certain foods and the lethal effects diminished by carrying emergency medication (EpiPen).

There is always that first attack when you are scrambling, your heart is racing, and you are figuratively on your knees praying for mercy and help.  What about that first ani shock when you had no clue of a preexisting condition? You didn’t know you or your child needed to avoid certain foods (or bees — I know someone who went into ani shock as an adult after a bee sting!), so you certainly do not carry emergency medication.  What do you do?

What I Wish I Knew…


Know the signs.  Call 911.  Administer Benadryl.  Ask for EpiPen.  Stay Calm.


Well, I figure most of you reading this fit into one of the following categories: 1) You’ve experienced anaphylaxis and had foreknowledge of the fact; 2) You have foreknowledge that it could happen, but you’ve been spared so far; 3) You have no foreknowledge of food allergies, but are curious how to respond should something happen; or 4) You could care less and don’t expect anything like this to ever happen to you.  For the purposes here, let’s not concern ourselves with #4.  If you fall into categories 1 or 2, I’ll assume you are following safe precautions by avoiding all allergic foods and carry rescue medication.

I want to focus on group 3: You have no foreknowledge of food allergies (you or your child has never shown any symptoms and you don’t worry about them), but you are curious about how to be prepared in the event something does happen to you, your child, or even another person.

Surprise Anaphylactic Shock Preparedness (sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?)

  1. Know the signs of anaphylactic shock (some or all may be present), no matter if it’s related to food or bee sting or something else in the environment.  Hives/Swelling (does not always indicate ani shock).  Throat Pain/Closing.  Vomiting.  Labored Breathing.  Faint/Dizzy/Groggy.  Loss of Consciousness.
  2. Respond quickly with benadryl.  I think benadryl is a good over-the-counter medication to have in your medicine cabinet.  You never know when it might be useful.  It won’t stop an ani attack, but it may help slow it down a little until you get emergency help.
  3. Call 911 immediately!!!!!
  4. If you’re in a public place, ask if anyone has an EpiPen.  This may be frowned upon advice since it is a prescribed medication, but for goodness sakes, it may save a life.
  5. While waiting for medical attention, try to have the person focus on you.  Keep talking to them.  Stay calm! (easier said than done)

I cannot guarantee the outcome of any anaphylactic shock episode where the person is unaware and unprepared.  We hear stories all the time of someone dying because they did not have access to an EpiPen.  There is actually a move in schools right now for EpiPens to remain in stock at the school for cases such as this.  It is such a good idea!  At any rate, I hope this little preparedness tutorial will be of help to you if you ever experience a surprise anaphylactic shock.  I pray that you do not!

Do you have any points to add to the person who seeks to be prepared for a surprise anaphylactic shock?

This ends the scheduled posts in the Life with Food Allergies series.  I truly hope that the things I’ve learned about food allergies through the years have been helpful to you as you travel along your journey.  There are a few additional topics that have been requested I cover.  I haven’t decided on that format yet, whether I will do a single post for each topic or a final odds-and-ends post.  At any rate, these topics include: allergy to uncommon foods, finding support groups, exploring alternative medical treatments, whether or not to change an entire family’s diet to that of the one with food allergies, using medication (handling, carrying, updating), and resisting temptation to resent those who are trying to help you and to the disease.

I hope you will continue to follow along in the Life with Food Allergies series as we wrap it up.

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