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First Aid Tip: Severe Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis)

These first aid tips are no substitute for thorough knowledge of first aid.
Attend a
St John Ambulance First Aid Course.

A severe allergic reaction will affect the whole body, in susceptible individuals it may develop within seconds or minutes of contact with the trigger factor and is potentially fatal.

Possible triggers can include skin or airborne contact with particular materials, the injection of a specific drug, the sting of a certain insect or the ingestion of a food such as peanuts.

Recognition Features

  • Impaired breathing: this may range from a tight chest to severe difficulty
  • There may be a wheeze or gasping for air.
  • Signs of shock.
  • Widespread blotchy skin eruption.
  • Swelling of the tongue and throat.
  • Puffiness around the eyes.
  • Anxiety.


Your aim is to arrange immediate removal of the casualty to hospital.

  • Dial 112 for an ambulance.
  • Give any information you have on the cause of the casualty’s condition.
  • Check whether the casualty is carrying any necessary medication. If they are, help them to use it.

If the casualty is conscious:

Help them to sit up in a position that most relieves any breathing difficulty, this is usually sitting up and leaning forward slightly.

If the casualty becomes unconscious:

  • Open the airway and check breathing.
  • Be prepared to give rescue breaths and chest compressions.
  • Place them into the recovery position if the casualty is unconscious but breathing normally.