How do medicines stop allergic reactions?
There are three main types of medicine used to treat allergic reactions; and all are potentially lifesaving. Some people with allergies carry an emergency pack containing all three.
- Antihistamines – these directly block the actions of histamine throughout the body.
- Inhalers – these medicines are inhaled to treat the asthma-like symptoms in the chest. They are usually given as a blue ‘puffer’ called salbutamol. If your child is only a little wheezy, inhalers should be enough to treat the problem. If they are really short of breath, the next medicine is required – adrenaline.
- Adrenaline – this is a natural hormone, which has several actions:
- It stops the release of further histamine from mast cells
- It tightens up blood vessels everywhere, raising the blood pressure, and reducing swelling very quickly.
- It causes the lungs to relax (like an inhaler, but stronger).
- It makes the heart beat faster and stronger.
Adrenaline is potentially life-saving; although it won’t help very much with the stomach upset or itching. You must always go to the Emergency Department after using it.
Which antihistamine is best for my child?
Liquids work faster than tablets; which should be crunched before swallowing to make them work faster. The ‘best’ choice depends on the individual; but common antihistamines are:
- Chlorphenamine (Piriton) – is rapid-acting, but not long-lasting, and can cause drowsiness. Usually given to children under one.
- Cetirizine, Loratidine, Fexofenadine and Desloratidine – all of these are rapidacting and long-lasting.
- In Newcastle, we will always prescribe one of these – most often cetirizine.
Does my child need an adrenaline pen?
The vast majority of children with food allergies do not need an adrenaline pen; but this depends on individual circumstances, and your doctor will have discussed these with you.