The Correlation between Benadryl, Epinephrine and Anaphylaxis

Ok, so I’m no expert on this subject, but I can say that I’ve had enough hands on experience with all three to know the difference and the effect they have on the body. I continue to read articles and posts on social media where parents are concerned about giving their child Benadryl for anaphylaxis. Our daughter has certainly had her moments with anaphylaxis, and we have become well versed in the Epinephrine (Epi) routine, but don’t rule out the benefits of Benadryl and the correlation between them all.

When your child is having an anaphylactic reaction, Epi is ALWAYS the first line of defense for stopping the reaction. However, Benadryl should be your second line of defense to stop the release of histamine-which is what is causing the reaction in the first place. Let’s break this down and see if we can make it a bit clearer.

Once you have eaten an allergic food and your body begins to have a reaction, you should immediately be given the Epi injection to stop the reaction. However, histamine that was released into your body when you ingested the allergic food, is still there. Epi will have no effect on histamine except to bind (or cover) the mast cells so that histamine cannot penetrate them to continue the reaction. Benadryl-the Antihistamine-will be needed to prevent any further release of histamine. Once the Epi wears off (and it will in about 15-20 minutes [been there done that]) and there is still histamine in the body, the body will again go into anaphylaxis. To prevent this from recurring, you need to take Benadryl along with the Epi to prevent the body from continuing to release histamine (and it will until the allergic food has been digested).

Our daughter Nat was a year old when she had her first reaction to peanut.

My husband had decided to cook peanut butter cookies for the New Year Holiday that was approaching. We have two addictions in our house that we have no control over, his being peanut butter and mine being chocolate. Once the first batch was done, he sat down on the couch with a few cookies that we “taste tested” for quality control.  Nat was standing between us on the floor in front of the couch and we began pinching our cookies and allowing her to “taste test” as well. There was no immediate sign of anaphylaxis, but just a small hive that I had noticed on her bottom lip. We knew she was sensitive to regular milk, but she’d never had a bad reaction. In our mind, we were thinking that it just may be the small amount of butter that was in the cookie dough. I gave her some benadryl and she was immediately fired from her “taste testing” position. Later that night (about 3-4 hours later), I’m lying in bed with her and she is scratching (more like digging) in the back of her head. I sit up, turn on the light and begin looking at her head. Noticing red splotches everywhere, I start a full body inspection to find that she is in severe distress. Her entire body is swollen and completely red. Not sure you can imagine this, but her skin was inflamed. I always describe it as if someone had taken a hive, stretched it out and slipped it over her head and covered her body. She looked like one huge hive. We immediately rushed her to the hospital. Once there, they begin working to stop the reaction. All the while, I’m in the corner with the doctor who is attempting to figure out what was causing the reaction. He begins by asking me to list everything she had eaten that day. I got to the peanut butter cookie, and it’s as if I could see the light bulb go off in his head. “That’s it!”, he exclaimed. I chimed in and told him that was more than 3 or 4 hours earlier. He even knew to ask me had she been given benadryl or any kind of antihistamine. I told him how her lip had gotten a hive on it and I’d given her a little benadryl and it went away. Again, he exclaimed, “That’s it!” He explained to me that the benadryl had stopped the release of histamine for a while, but once it wore off and was out of her system( and the peanut butter was still there) the reaction came back like a tornado. We were referred to an allergist, who did all the testing and confirmed her allergies to peanuts, eggs and milk.

Now, in telling that story, I just wanted to show that the Benadryl did prevent a terrible “immediate” reaction. However, had I not given Benadryl right away, I’m certain the reaction would have escalated and would have warranted Epi at that point, and after a few visits to the allergist, we learned that Epi IS the first line of defense. You need to stop anaphylaxis immediately, but you also should give Benadryl. Nat had so many reactions as a baby and toddler and we gave so much Benadryl, that we were afraid her body would become immune to it. Nevertheless, there were many times, we only gave Benadryl for those small reactions, and didn’t give Epi. And it worked! But….since then, we don’t hesitate to give her the Epi and followup with Benadryl.

Oh yes. Let me clarify why we were always quick to grab the Benadryl. My husband and I worked in EMS as an Intermediate and as a Paramedic. During that time of working with Emergency Medical Services, it was drilled to us that you always give Benadryl first. So that’s what we did on the back of an ambulance and that’s what we were use to. It just took time, a great deal of arguing with our allergist (who finally convinced us thank goodness) patience, and hands on experience to learn the correct line of defense in dealing with anaphylaxis. Perhaps her reactions back then could have cleared up a lot quicker had we immediately given Epi.

I know that may all seem to run together, but I just wanted to share our story and experience in what we have discovered and learned about the correlation between Benadryl, Epinephrine and Anaphylaxis. Even though I continue to read where parents are concerned about giving Benadryl, from our experience, we will continue to give Benadryl with Epi for all anaphylactic reactions.

“Our choice is our own.”


33 thoughts on “The Correlation between Benadryl, Epinephrine and Anaphylaxis

  1. nbosken says:

    I am super allergic to peanut butter also. We found out when I was one with a peanut butter cookie at the grocery store. I always ask about everything because I always want to know exactly what is in my food.

    • says:

      Good practice! KEEP DOING THAT! We’ve taught our daughter that as well. Even if she’s at grandma’s and she wants to try something new, she will call me and read the ingredients over the phone to me.

  2. Lyosha says:

    Very informative! I didn’t know most of it even though I have allergy myself. I will definitely have a talk with my doctor regarding what I read here, it might even change my treatment a little (if needed).

    • says:

      I’m glad you liked it. That’s exactly why I wanted to write this post. It may not be the routine that works for everyone, but my husband and I are now firm believers in asking and letting others know what works for us. It may be something that they have never tried or experienced or even in our case, we didn’t believe the doctor until we saw it first hand.

  3. Joanna says:

    This was a very interesting article to read because I never experienced allergic reactions before and I wouldn’t know what to do if it happens to me or someone around me. I knew about the EPI pen but I had no idea about Benadryl.

    • says:

      Thank you! We were the same about Epi (in the dark, so to speak).We have learned so much about it since discovering our daughters allergies. We just want to put our experiences out here so others can read about them and perhaps it will help them regarding their decisions about allergies.

  4. Cia Black says:

    While we don’t have any allergies in our home, thankfully. I’m always weary of other people’s kids and now my kids are at the age of sleep overs and hang out…Anxiety to the fullest. This is good information for any parent to have, because I honestly wouldn’t have the slightest clue on how to handle this.

    • says:

      So glad you find it helpful. That’s our goal! You make a great point. Not can those With allergies benefit from our site but also those Without allergies. Thank you and feel free to browse our other posts for more great info and tips.

  5. Preet says:

    This is such a detailed and informative post. You are so brave to share your experience dealing with Benadryl and Epi as a parent, I am glad Nat was okay after the first allergy reaction. Your post did make things clearer for me.

    • says:

      Thank you so much. I’ve been so pleased with the response I’ve been getting. Sometimes it helps to hear from people who have had hands on experience than just getting the usual medical advice.

  6. Ellie Plummer says:

    This was so interesting as I have no knowledge about benadryl, epinephrine or anaphylaxis but after reading this, I have more knowledge and a better idea of how to deal with it.

  7. thechitownchica says:

    I have an allergy and don’t go anywhere without Benedryl and my Epi-pen. I am going to share this with friends because it does a better job of explaining the two and why I need them both than I ever could.

    • says:

      Thank you so so much. We had the same problem in the beginning when trying to understand it ourselves. We had so many arguments with allergists until one finally just sat down with us and put it as simple as he could to help us understand. Then I did as much research as possible to put all the pieces together to be able to explain it to others the same.

  8. Shub B says:

    Such a really informative and important article. Now I got knowledge about Correlation Benadryl, Epinephrine or Anaphylaxis, knowing what to do on Allergy reaction is such a great thing.Glad that you are spreading awareness about this.

    • says:

      Thank you so much. Spreading awareness is our goal. I’m so grateful for the response I’ve been getting to this post. It’s something I’ve seen so much confusion on. Just hoping to bring some light to the subject.

  9. Katie says:

    Allergic reactions can be so scary, especially if you discover an allergy your child has for the first time. I’m glad there are easy and home remedies to keep our loved ones safe.

  10. stylevicksen says:

    Oh wow! This is great information for people with allergies. I have a friend that is allergic to almonds and almost died due to a severe allergic reaction. It was very scary for her. She had to go to the hospital and stay for a little while.

    Nicole V.

  11. Jack bransson says:

    I don’t know anything about this but i think its good to have experience on things such this. Just learned something today.

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