Learn first aid for someone having a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
Staying safe while giving first aid
Please always consider your personal safety when giving first aid. Look out for any dangers and only act when you're confident it is safe to do so.
1. The person may develop a rash, itchiness or swelling on their hands, feet or face.
Their breathing may slow down. They may also vomit or have diarrhoea. Common causes of allergic reactions are pollen, stings and bites, latex and some food items, such as nuts, shellfish, eggs or dairy products.
2. Call 999 if you see these symptoms.
They need urgent medical assistance because an allergic reaction can affect someone very quickly, and is potentially very serious. The reaction may cause swelling of their airway, causing them to stop breathing.
3. If they have a known allergy, use their auto-injector.
If someone has a known allergy, they may have been prescribed an auto-injector. Follow the guidance on the packaging.
4. Reassure them and make them as comfortable as possible while you wait for the ambulance.
Tell the ambulance crew if the auto-injector has been used.
Watch how to help someone who is having a severe allergic reaction (2 minutes 8 seconds)
Common questions about first aid for someone who is having a severe allergic reaction
What kinds of food can cause allergic reactions?
The most common foods that can cause allergic reactions are:
- dairy products
Allergic reactions can also be caused by:
- bee and wasp stings
- certain medications.
How will I know if it is a severe allergic reaction?
The person may have mild allergies, resulting in itchy skin and eyes. If they have a severe allergic reaction, they might also have symptoms such as swelling of their tongue or neck and difficulty breathing.
Call 999 if you see these symptoms.
What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis (also called anaphylactic shock) is a severe allergic reaction that makes it difficult for a person to breathe.
If a doctor identifies someone as being at risk of anaphylactic shock, they may give them an auto-injector. An auto-injector contains medication that helps to ease the symptoms in an emergency.
Should I use their auto-injector for them?
If the person has an auto-injector, you can help them use it or do it yourself, following the guidance on the injector.
How do I use an auto-injector?
The auto-injector will have instructions on the side of its packaging which you should follow.
Give the auto-injector you used to the ambulance crew when they arrive.
Can I use an auto-injector on a child with a known allergy if they have a severe allergic reaction?
Yes. If the child has an auto-injector, you can give them an auto-injection following the guidance on the packaging.
What should I do if the person becomes unresponsive and stops breathing?
- how to help an adult who is unresponsive and not breathing
- how to help a baby who is unresponsive and not breathing
- how to help a child who is unresponsive and not breathing.
How can I get an insect sting out of someone’s skin?
If the sting is still in the skin, brush or scrape it off sideways with your fingernail or a credit card.
After the sting has been removed, apply something cold to the area (such as an ice pack) to minimise the pain and swelling.
Be aware that this may not reduce the risk of an allergic reaction for someone with a severe allergy.
If you have any other questions about first aid for someone who is having a severe allergic reaction, visit the NHS website. During life-threatening emergencies, call 999, or for non-emergency medical help, call 111.
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