The Case of the Dangerous Sandwich



My daughter told me during a phone call that she wasn't feeling well. She was away at college and told me there had been sandwiches at a party she'd attended.

"I ate one and now I don’t feel good at all," she confessed.

My nurse antennae went up because, in addition, to being allergic to penicillin, my daughter has food allergies. She is particularly allergic to nuts and shellfish. Typically, when she has eaten one of the offending foods, she feels a tingling in her tongue and on occasion, nausea. We had experienced small episodes before, once with a store-bought cookie and another time after she'd eaten a french fry from my plate. Unbeknownst to us, fish juice had splashed on it from my fish taco. Both times, she started to feel her tongue tingle and on each occasion, she took Benadryl and felt better.

I asked her what was in the sandwich, but she didn't know, felt nauseated and had already taken a Benadryl. This time though, my daughter was scared. She was alone in a house where she was staying.  The dorms had closed.  And her roommate was not home.

Her face was hot and she felt sick, which hadn't happened during her previous reactions. An Internet search for the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis made her suspect she was in danger.  Read on to find out about her trip to the medical center where it we confirmed anaphylaxis.

What is an anaphylactic reaction?

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening and can occur immediately after coming into contact with a subject to which the body is allergic, or can be delayed.

It is caused by exposure in the past to the substance causing the reaction called an antigen, which prepares the body to be sensitive to the substance.

What are some signs and symptoms?

  • itchiness, rash, hives
  • nausea or bowel pain
  • itching or swelling tongue
  • wheezing, difficulty breathing, gasping, pursed lip breathing
  • slurring words, confusion, inability to speak
  • weakness
  • pale color

If your child exhibits any of the symptoms of food allergy listed above when eating any foods or around any allergen, make sure to schedule an appointment with an allergy specialist.

At Children's Hospital Los Angeles, our Division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy combines innovative treatment, research, education and outreach in the care of children with severe allergic disease, asthma, primary immune deficiency disorders and HIV/AIDS.

You can learn more about their asthma and allergy services online.

Quick Thinking in an Emergency

Once my daughter suspected anaphylaxis, she called her college's emergency student number, then her roommate and took out her EpiPen (an epinephrine autoinjector).

Even though she'd never had to use it before, she was familiar with how to do so and carried one at all times. Despite her fear of needles, she quickly opened the EpiPen and jabbed it into her leg.

Firemen arrived in minutes, started an IV and brought her to the medical center. She was given steroids and observed for several hours, but, thanks to the steps she took, she was in stable condition the entire time.

I was many miles away and my daughter was alone.  But her quick thinking and decisive action saved her life.  Thankfully, she had her EpiPen and knew she had to use it.

Now, she is going to get a medic alert bracelet (and I am kicking myself for not thinking of this).  But she is smarter and wiser than I am!

Prepare Yourself

Make sure you always have Benadryl on hand. Your child should have an unexpired EpiPen at all times and know how to use it. You will have to show the prescription to your child's school staff members for them to allow the pen at school. A medic alert bracelet is a great idea as well.

Allergies are nothing to sneeze at!  The reactions can be mild at first, but they can change and become more severe and even become life-threatening.

I, for one, am proud of my daughter and very grateful she had that EpiPen and the courage to use it. By taking the proper precautions, you can help your children know what to do if they find themselves in a similar situation.

You can also read more on the subject of food allergies in Raising a Child with Food Allergies.