Our Allergy Home: Anaphylactic Aftershocks

In the past year, my son has had two separate anaphylactic reactions.  They have served to change the way we run our household and live out our daily life.

His First

His first episode was last summer when on vacation.  It had been so long (about 2 years) since my son had any allergic reactions to food, so we were hopeful that he was finally growing out of them.

On this particular evening, we thought we were being safe at a restaurant by making sure the server knew that there should be no butter on his hamburger bun, no cheese, etc.  As the food came around, my son happily sunk his teeth into that hamburger.  About two-thirds of the way through it, he started to complain of a tummy ache.

When we had all finished, I took him to the restroom, but he (nor I) could figure out why his tummy hurt.  He didn’t need to use the restroom or throw up.  Now he started to complain of a sore throat. (You must know that he never had an allergic reaction with these symptoms before.)  Despite not feeling well, we headed towards the outdoor concert in the town center.  Half-way there, he started crying and fussing a lot.  I told the others to go ahead and I would take him back to the car to look him over and maybe give him some benadryl. (He was questioning the food, but I kept assuring him that the food “seemed” fine.)

I started to look him over and was trying to get him to take Benadryl; he was having a hard time with this because he was about to the point of hysterics.  He finally took it and I started to think that I needed to call the others back and we might want to consider taking him to the ER.  I called the others and my husband showed up fast.  I pulled out the epi-pen at this point (I was shaking from head to toe…we had never used it before.) and was about to inject when my husband stopped me to make sure we were doing the right thing.  We instantly saw his eyes roll back in his head and I jabbed him with the epi-pen.  He immediately started throwing up (sorry dude in the truck next to us).

Everyone was back to the car by this time and we all piled in.  Wow!  My husband can drive a Toyota minivan like a Porsche if he has to.  Because we were in a small town, the ER was about 20 minutes away.  I was sitting in the back with my son during the drive and it was very surreal.  I was shaking nervously, praying fervently and watching my son as he was “talking out of his head.”

The hives started appearing at this point (always the first sign in the past), but he was relatively calm as the epinephrine was doing it’s job.  I attempted to alert the ER during the ride via 911, but they never called the hospital.  They kept telling us to pull over so EMS could pick him up.  I insisted that my husband was doing just fine and would get us there quicker.

We arrived in a record 12 or so minutes and the medical staff immediately started doing their work.  (Note: This was not a children’s hospital, but a small-town general hospital.)  I was pleased with how they treated him and seemed to be careful with his size, condition, history, etc.  During this time, he had a couple of hallucinations, but was really just exhausted.  He soon fell asleep and they released him after a few hours.

My son continued on steroids after the episode and I was hypersensitive to all food and his basic health.  It was good to be cautious for his sake, but I have to be careful not to step over the border into certifiable anxiety.

His Second

I wrote in the post on the history of our allergy home about this second reaction.  You can go back and read that post, but I will recount some of it here again. My son’s second anaphylactic reaction was at home on a normal fall day.  We were having lunch as usual.  My son asked for milk to drink, I filled up the cup and he had a drink.  I must have been in some sort of auto-pilot mode because I cannot recall actually pouring the milk and giving it to him.  Right after taking a drink, he said, “I think I drank cow’s milk.”  I thought that perhaps he was mistaken because surely I did not give him cow’s milk.  He was certain, though, so I gave him some Benadryl just to be safe.  I sat with him and watched some cartoons, hoping to calm him down.  But he kept complaining that his stomach and throat hurt.  I finally asked him if he would like to go sit in the waiting room at the ER because it is only 5 minutes up the road…I still wasn’t certain that he had actually drunk cow’s milk and thought perhaps it was just psychological.  We walked into the ER and I was telling the admission desk that we were just going to sit because my son thought he was having an allergic reaction, but I wasn’t certain.  She asked me a couple of questions about checking in, which I declined.  I then looked over at my son and started to see the hives appear all over his face.  I told the lady, “YES!  He is having an allergic reaction!”  They rushed us to a room and quickly started administering an Epi-pen, steroids, breathing treatment…the whole nine yards.  It was a whirlwind and he was frightened and so was I!  (My 2 year old had no idea what to think of all of it.)

They got him stable and mentioned how bad a reaction it was.  I replied, “Really? I didn’t think he was that bad…he had a worse reaction in the summer.” They were not comfortable with releasing him, so they admitted us for over night.  About 6 hours after the initial reaction, he had a secondary reaction with swelling, hives and blood red all over his body (I was glad they didn’t release us afterall).  They had just administered a dose of Benadryl, so for fear that he was reacting to that, the doctor ordered a different antihistamine.  The doctor stayed in the room with us for at least 45 minutes monitoring him (you know that never happens).  Thankfully, the antihistamine started to kick in and the secondary reaction started to fade after about an hour. My son had a restful night, despite the hospital environment.  (I, on the other hand, was still working on calming my nerves from the whole days excitement.)

We were released the next morning with the usual prescriptions and doctor appointments.  I have mentioned before how much we love our allergy doctor.  She called while I was filling the prescription to let us know that she had received the report from the ER and wanted to check up on him.  This is the kind of bedside manor I appreciate.


The Aftershocks

Whenever anyone experiences a trauma, there are always aftershocks.  Whether it is being in a car accident or being the victim of violence or a natural catastrophe.  All events shape our lives and the ways in which we manage the ins and outs of our daily routine.

We could not simply let our allergy home continue to run as it did before and hope that something didn’t happen again.  So after having two events that nearly cost my son his life, we made some significant changes in our home and are prepared to make more, if needed.

  • We no longer have cow’s milk in the house (except in the form of yogurt or cheese that are easily recognizable).  If these items ever become a problem, they will be gone as well.
  • I make sure that I always have his “medication bag” with me, even if just running down the street.
  • My son goes nowhere (birthday party, play date, babysitter, etc.) without explicit instructions regarding his care.
  • We do not eat at restaurants for the most part.  If we do, I always bring food from home (sometimes I allow McDonalds, but am very cautious).
  • I take my son’s food to the homes of family and friends.
  • We will no longer vacation anywhere that there is not a hospital within 10 miles.  This was part of our discussion with my extended family as we were thinking on vacation locations for this summer.  When I explained to them that we needed to stay within 10 miles of a hospital, it was such a blessing to hear “absolutely, don’t say another word about it and don’t apologize.”
  • I no longer “assume” that the food at a restaurant is safe.
  • On vacation, we will not be eating at all the local restaurants as in years past, partly because of budget constraints, but mostly because it’s not worth the risk.  The couple of times that we do go out, I will pack my son’s food and I will put it on the restaurant table unapologetically.
  • I try to read every label all the time, even if it is a familiar product.  You never know when a company may change their ingredients.
  • I pray A LOT for my son’s health and safety.  In my life, God is in control and I take comfort in knowing that He will do what is good for my son.  I certainly pray that one day he can eat food without the risk of death wrapped in every bite, but I also pray that we will get through each day without an incident.

Even though we have the above list in place, I try to not to make it too stifling.  We do enjoy going to restaurants on occasion.  We love to be invited to the homes of our friends and family (don’t be afraid to invite us over :).  These are just natural “aftershocks” to our allergy home’s trauma.

Have you ever experienced anaphylaxis? What “aftershocks” have you felt as a result of food allergy reactions in your home? We want to hear your story.  Please consider submitting the story of your allergy home with us.  See the guidelines in the sidebar (and I’m not really that picky!).

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7 Responses to Our Allergy Home: Anaphylactic Aftershocks

  1. Amy says:

    We just experienced our 2nd severe food allergy reaction today. I was googling “food allergies eyes roll back” and came across your post. I have a two-year-old little girl who is HIGHLY allergic to milk and eggs. We first figured it out when she had formula for the very first time, at daycare, and she immediately broke out in hives all over her body. By the time I got to her, she was coughing non-stop and I could not get any Benadryl in her (she kept spitting it out and clamping her mouth shut). It was very scary. We rushed to the ER and they had no idea what was wrong with her. It was very clear to me that it was an allergic reaction and one doctor even mentioned IMPETIGO. It was clearly hives and an allergic reaction. They gave her Benadryl and put her on Zantac and sent us home. Her 2nd major reaction (we’ve had minor reactions all along) was today. She was given Cheetos at school. The school called and told me that she was breaking out in hives and that she had eaten Cheetos. I got to the school within about 5-10 minutes to check on her. She seemed fine (other than the usual hives), she was breathing fine, talking fine, looked fine. As I was standing there talking to her teachers and holding her, her eyes began to turn really red (bloodshot) and began to water a lot. She started grabbing at her eyes and we tried asking her what was wrong. She didn’t respond and her eyes began rolling back in her head. I told her teacher to get her Epi-pen out of her cubby. (We have never used the Epi-pen so far…) By the time her teacher got back to me with the Epi (maybe 20 seconds?) her eyes were back to normal and all along she never had any breathing issues. Immediately after that happened, I monitored her breathing and began asking her questions. She responded normally and she was breathing normally. All of this happened about 30 -45 minutes after she ate the Cheetos and about 20-30 minutes after she was given 1 tsp of Benadryl. It was very scary. I called her pediatrician’s office while I was on the way to ER, to ask her pediatrician’s advice. Their office told me to take her to the ER. I took her to the ER and she was acting perfectly fine. I didn’t end up going in and checking her in at the ER. I left the ER and took her to a Pri-Med (emergency type doctor’s office) to have her checked out…everything was fine. They put her on steroids for four days in case of a delayed reaction. I am watching her closely and she seems perfectly fine. It was VERY scary and I still question whether I should have used the Epi. The doctor said that the Epinephrine is a very powerful drug and to only use it if she having trouble breathing or if I am in doubt. He said it’s a great life-saver but also a very powerful drug. It all happened so fast and I think that, if it would have lasted any longer than it did, that I would have used the Epi. I am SO incredibly thankful today that she had no apparent breathing issues.

    • Cook says:


      Wow! I’m sorry to hear about your scary day. Please keep me posted if anything changes with your daughter’s condition.

      To be honest with you, my son’s symptoms have been different every single time he’s had an allergic reaction. So be careful that you don’t depend on what you’ve seen before. In addition to that, a friend’s daughter who has a peanut allergy (they were not sure how severe b/c it had been several years since a reaction) recently ingested peanuts. She never had any breathing problems at all, so she did not give her the epi-pen, but did go straight to the ER b/c she was throwing up. Once at the ER, I believe they gave her the epi and told the mom that she should have administered it. The mom replied that her daughter wasn’t having any breathing problems, so she didn’t think she needed to use it. The doctor said that relying solely on labored breathing is not a good indication of anaphylaxis b/c the throat constriction can happen w/in a very short period of time. In other words, she was going into anaphylaxis shock w/out the breathing problems.

      So, for what it’s worth, be very cautious. I have also been told before that we should have administered the epi-pen when we didn’t. In my opinion, the epi-pen, while strong, will not kill my son, but a prolonged anapylaxis shock will. That is just my opinion, I am not a medical doctor.

      Thanks again for sharing. I hope all continues to go well with her recovery.

  2. ashley simmons says:

    Amy, my 3-year-old had an anaphylactic response to me accidentally giving him soy milk 2 years ago. And then, a few weeks ago I accidentally did it the same. Very similar situations as your son’s. Both times I was on what you called “auto pilot”, once at 6am, the other at 3am. The second time involved different symptoms (stomach ache, mouth hurting—same as yours!) so I was thinking it wasn’t that big of a deal (same as you). He only had a few sips. I gave him Benadryl (a lot) and watched cartoons with him too for 30 minutes (same as you). Then we went to ER because he started coughing…which is a red flag for him. We didn’t use epi bc close to hospital and I was ready to pull over at any time to give it. We talked the whole way, etc.
    Just wanted to post because I found it interesting how your story was similar to mine. I am so glad they were both okay.
    So good that you are taking cow’s milk out of the house. I think that when my 1.5 year old gets just a little older we will all drink rice milk only. In fact, as I just wrote that, and just had that idea…I feel certain. Again, so glad you all are well. Where do you go to the beach? We go to Perdido and there is a VERY safe restaurant there; the only time all year we eat out.

    • Cook says:

      It is so good to find support out there. When you feel like others don’t understand (at least in your immediate circle), you can always be assured that someone else relates. I’m curious – did they give your son the epi-pen once you got to the ER? We’re very close to the hospital as well, thankfully!

      Beach – It depends on the trip b/c about every 2-3 years we go on trip with my family and the location varies. We also go to a beach in Michigan some. I’m not familiar w/ Perdido (I just googled it) – nice area. We’ve thought about going to AL gulf coast, but haven’t yet. We’ve been to Destin, FL.

      Thanks for sharing your story with us here!

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