children describing an allergic reaction - invisibly allergic blog

16 Ways Children May Describe An Allergic Reaction

Food Allergies Are A Spectrum & Food Allergy Representation Is Important

Lately, I’ve been having fun brainstorming ideas for children’s literature that’s disability & food allergy inclusive. I love the idea of representing life with a food allergy in a positive and accurate way to spread awareness not only of food allergy awareness but also connection within the food allergy community to where children, and really anybody, can see themselves represented. If you haven’t already, check out my post on my top food allergy, marginalized, and disability book recommendations for adults & children.

As I’ve discussed here many times on Invisibly Allergic, food allergy severity is a spectrum, and so it’s important to know that food allergies truly can’t be generalized. No single food allergy looks alike another, and each allergic reaction is different and unique, too. I’ve been considering various ways to successfully discuss mild to life-threatening food allergy symptoms with kids through books, and need to consult my K-12 teacher friends for advice! What led me to write this post was that I imagined how hard it would be for a parent of a child with a food allergy to decipher what a child is going through if they are describing a reaction and how to navigate it if they’ve never had a food allergy reaction before themselves. I began searching online to see what I could learn, as well as asking my own mom, who navigated this uncharted food allergy territory with me as a kid.

I Was That “Allergic Child”

As many of you likely know, due to my food allergy story and my other food allergy & peanut allergy blog posts, I don’t have children with food allergies, I’m the person with a food allergy in my family and grew up with one from a very young age. So while I don’t know the experience of being the parent of a child with a food allergy, my perspective and knowledge comes from being somebody who grew up with a life-threatening peanut allergy and is now an adult with a life-threatening food allergy. I am still amazed when searching online at how much information is available about food allergies compared to a decade ago when there was hardly any, but it can also be overwhelming, opinionated, and hard to sift through.

What Is Anaphylaxis? For Children (YouTube)

I found this amazing stop-motion video on YouTube that I knew I needed to include on Invisibly Allergic. Someone mentioned this in the comments section of the video, but it’s a relatively non-threatening and gentle way to portray anaphylaxis symptoms in a kid-friendly way because it’s done in play dough. Yet, it still shows hard-to-explain topics such as kids tongue itching, face swelling and dizziness, and it even includes the correct place to inject an epinephrine auto-injector, which I think is very important for children to learn, because I remember as a kid, there was always a lot of confusion around that due to TV and movie portrayals getting it wrong, which I talk about in my Ultimate Guide To Caring For Children With Food Allergies under media portrayal. Take a look at “What is Anaphylaxis? For Children”:

The play-dough stop-motion video seems geared more towards children who are old enough to read, but I found lots of other YouTube resource videos similar for a range of ages, so take a look for yourself on YouTube if you need a different age range! There’s a lot out there.

Topics To Talk To Your Pediatrician & Board-Certified Allergist About

I am a huge believer in working with your pediatrician and/or board-certified allergist to understand exactly what to do in the event of an allergic reaction, and what to look for, since every food allergy is different. I suggest looking up the pediatric anaphylaxis guidelines and asking to discuss those with your pediatritian and/or allergist. Don’t feel bad about talking to your doctor extensively about kids allergic reactions signs and symptoms how to identify an allergic reaction in babies, baby alleric reaction to food & developing a food allergy plan for your family. They will be able to best explain how to tell if a baby is having an allergic reaction, food allergy symptoms in toddlers, and what to do in the most current and up-to-date way. Another topic to bring up are skin allergic reactions and rashes, because often a rash is a sign of a food allergy or allergy in children and babies. The pediatrician will be able to explain how long a baby food allergy or toddler food allergy rash should last, show you pictures, what a baby food allergy rash looks like, and more. Take all the time and ask all the questions you need, and try to find a doctor that really listens and doesn’t rush you out of the room or not take your experiences around food allergies seriously.


For those of you who aren’t familiar with the food allergy blog, The No Nut Traveler, it is one of my favorite allergy blogs to follow for their content topics and food allergy resources. On their Facebook page a while back, they had a post covering the many ways children may describe their allergic reaction symptoms. I thought this was very important & I took a screenshot of it. It’s a tricky subject to cover extensively because of the difficulty and inability children may have when describing their symptoms accurately to adults, and realistically, there are thousands of ways children could describe a reaction. However, discussing ways is important to have an idea of how a child may describe it and adjectives they might use and to be on the lookout for. From what I’ve noticed being in the food allergy community for decades now, discussing how children communicate an allergic reaction is a more recent topic getting attention, and that’s so important! This wasn’t a topic discussed at all when I was a child or growing up, and also not a regular topic even discussed in the food allergy space even 5-10 years ago. Long story short, I’m really thrilled it’s being discussed earlier and earlier in a food-allergic child’s life because it is so vital when an allergy is life-threatening to have an idea of what they may describe a life-threatening reaction as.

The No Nut Traveler Facebook “How Kids Describe An Allergic Reaction To Food” Screenshot:

invisibly allergic blog - peanut allergy

PS- Wow, I am just now connecting that this is the same MD Julie Brown who created the diagram I appreciate and wrote my blog post on how much allergen is needed to cause anaphylaxis. I’ve written my top bullet points out on how kids may describe allergic reactions to food, to help open up adults minds to this vocabulary:

16 Ways Kids May Describe An Allergic Reaction

  • “Food tastes like something is wrong with it”
  • “Food is spicy, my tongue is burning”
  • “There’s a bump on my tongue”
  • “There’s something poking my tongue”
  • “My tongue/mouth itches”
  • “There’s hair in my mouth/on my tongue”
  • “My lips/tongue/spit feels big”
  • “There are rocks/bone/frog/something stuck in my throat”
  • “I have bugs in my ears”
  • Complaining of eyes itching, burning, or leaking
  • Complaining of eyes going in and out of the dark
  • The child may have a sense of doom, saying “uh oh” or “something is wrong”
  • “My tummy hurts, I feel sick”
  • “It feels like I ate a volcano”
  • “I have bugs in my stomach”
  • “My body feels heavy/stuffy/hot”

In the event that a child is attempting to and/or describing symptoms to you, always take it seriously. A food allergy can come out of nowhere and be from trace amounts via cross-contact and not only from purposefully ingested food. One scary reality is also that food allergies can happen to anyone at any time because they can develop out of nowhere. According to, “Food allergy symptoms are most common in babies and children, but they can appear at any age. You can even develop an allergy to foods you have eaten for years with no problem.”

National Library of Medicine – NIH Results

I came across this 2012 article (so a little dated, but still seems helpful and relevant!) on the National Institute of Health that had a chart comparing adults’ symptoms of anaphylaxis compared to children’s symptoms. It states, “Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis for adults and children are summarized in Table 1. Although cutaneous symptoms predominate in adults, the primary presenting symptoms in children are respiratory in nature (e.g., wheezing, and shortness of breath). In addition, cardiovascular symptoms tend to be less common in children (17 %) than in adults (30 %–35 %).”

I found these statistics interesting, it seems respiratory issues are most common in children, and I absolutely had this same experience as a food allergic child. I was diagnosed with asthma and always felt wheezing coming on as the primary symptom of a food reaction when I was a kid. My symptoms have definitely morphed over the years as I’ve gotten older, and I no longer experience asthma, so I’ve attached their table in case you’re interested:

anaphylaxis symptoms adults vs children - invisibly allergic blog - food allergy

Out of the same National Institute of Health (NIH) article, I pulled another screenshot to consider, “In studies evaluating parents, only 48 % of parents could identify more than one symptom that would require the use of epinephrine, and only 43.5 % reported receiving education regarding their child’s food allergy and management of his/her reactions.” They included a basic management of anaphylaxis table, shown below:

basic management of anaphylaxis - invisibly allergic blog - ncbi_nlm_nih

This anaphylaxis in children article is lengthy but covers a lot of ground, I recommend reading it. I learned statistics I wasn’t familiar with before! I love learning helpful statistics and facts around food allergies. I don’t want to read anything that is meant to only encite food allergy fear, no way, but I love truly helpful, eye-opening, educational and impactful food allergy statistics.  


Please feel free to share either the YouTube video, No Nut Traveler FB screenshot, and/or this blog post to help spread awareness. Like I said, I’m no expert when it comes to parenting a child with a food allergy, but I have my own extensive food allergy skillset when it comes to caring for children with food allergies and knowledge I can offer since I was that allergic kid and grew up with it and still manage it first-hand.

Are there topics you wish you saw discussed more in the allergy community? If so, drop me a line via my food allergy consulting page or Invisibly Allergic contact page! 

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  1. Having worked in an elementary school, this is such good information for adults who may be around children with allergies. Just an understanding of the different ways a child might explain how they are feeling is so helpful. Would be nice to distribute this to the schools to post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree! I should pass this information out, or make it available somehow. I will have to research the best way to go about distributing it!

    I also would love to eventually get children’s food allergy books into the libraries at schools, as well as the public libraries. There are a few really good ones for kids, as well as DVDs.


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