Emergency advice

If someone’s having an allergic reaction:

  1. Call 999/112 straight away.
  2. Use their auto-injector if they have one.
  3. Monitor their breathing.

What is an allergy?

An allergy is an abnormal reaction of the body's immune system to an allergen or ‘trigger’ substance.

One of the most common allergens is plant pollen, which often causes hay fever. Other allergens include animal hair, dusts, moulds, and some foods.  Common symptoms of mild allergy may include sneezing, runny nose and mild itchy rashes.

What is a anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis (sometimes called anaphylactic shock) is a severe life-threatening allergic reaction that can develop just seconds after someone comes into contact with the allergen. It is different to the minor allergies caused by pollens and dust as it progresses very quickly (seconds to minutes) and is an emergency  It can affect the whole body, and if it’s not treated quickly enough it could be fatal. Common triggers of anaphylaxis include bee stings, some foods (commonly nuts), some medicines (commonly penicillen) and some natural substances (eg latex).  Someone at risk of anaphylaxis may know what they are allergic to and carry medication with them to use in an emergency.

Signs and symptoms

In mild / moderate cases look for: 

  • a red, itchy rash, or raised area of skin (weals/hives) often around the face and neck
  • red, itchy, watery eyes
  • rapid swelling of hands, feet, or face (particularly lips and neck)
  • abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhoea.

In severs cases, these are the additional symptoms to be aware of:

  • difficulty in breathing with wheezinf or noisy airway
  • coughing
  • swelling of tongue and throat with puffiness around eyes
  • confusion and agitation
  • signs of shock leading to collapse and unresponsiveness.

What to do

    • If someone’s having a severe allergic reaction, then they may carry medication to inject themselves - an auto-injector. This is a pre-filled injection device containing adrenaline which when injected, can help reduce the body’s allergic reaction. 
    • Check if they have one, and if they do, help them to use it or do it yourself straight away following the instructions.
    • Call 999 or 112 and tell ambulance control that you suspect ANAPHYLAXIS.
    • Help them to get comfortable and monitor their breathing and level of response by lying the casualty down with their legs raised.  If they are having breathing difficulties, then sit them up.
    • Repeated doses of adrenaline can be given at five-minute intervals if there is no improvement or the symptoms return.

Related first aid advice

How to do the primary survey

Use the primary survey to quickly assess the situation and check the casualty for injuries or conditions that could be immediately life threatening. Find out what to do.

How to do CPR on an adult

If an adult is unresponsive and not breathing normally, you need to call 999 or 112 for emergency help and start CPR straight away. Learn what to do.

Insect stings

Insect stings can be painful but are not usually dangerous. However, stings to the mouth or throat can be more serious. Find out what to do.

St John Ambulance volunteers providing support