Sit still and stay calm! How important is this when having an allergic reaction?

It’s Saturday morning and the list of chores is written. I am about to rush out with errands to complete and urgent supplies to purchase when I reach down and take a lovely gulp of tea but… panic, panic, it’s the WRONG tea!

My husband has real milk in his and I find myself standing in the middle of the kitchen clutching the WRONG mug!

A gulp of tea from the wrong mug!

The wrong tea - the one with milk in it... argh!I’m panicking. He’s panicking. But we both handle it pretty well. My throat is by now beginning to itch and swell but I take two Fenofexadine anti-histamines (180mg) and sit calmly on the sofa. I am ordered not to move, at all, to just sit still, and stay there. Not easy for me, especially when I realise I left my mobile phone in the other room. It really can’t be that bad if I’m thinking about my phone, I think to myself.

My nurse (totally untrained but very caring) is anxious about whether we should be be going to A&E or using the EpiPen but whilst I can feel some swelling, I can still breath pretty well and am not panicking, just yet!

He says he can see my throat visibly swollen just from looking at it, the outside of it, and it does feel tight.

My condition did not worsen. I felt like I just might be in danger of an asthma attack but by being still and remaining calm I realised it was going to be OK. Regular puffs on my inhaler kept me breathing.

I relaxed, well that’s probably not the right word, I sat calmly trying to relax and checking I was still alright and not getting any worse for hours, and hours. I did doze off for a bit. I could get used to the regular checks, cups of the right tea, delivered to me so I didn’t have to move and time to read a few chapters of a book. I rarely make myself just sit and read these days.

An easy mistake to make

I’m amazed I don’t make this mistake more often really. It’s so easy to do. When we’re both drinking tea we both often carry it around and leave it somewhere, so it isn’t always in our hands. I wish I could ban all cow’s milk from the house but this seems extreme. It’s only the second time in about six years that I’ve made the ‘wrong tea’ mistake.

How much milk is too much?

I am very lucky. My dairy allergy is dose related. A small amount like milk diluted into a big mug of tea would usually not be enough to induce anaphylaxis but it could be enough to trigger an asthma attack, the severity depends on how quickly I act – or don’t act as the case may be.

The biggest lesson ever, that I learnt this year after an allergic reaction at The Allergy Show is the importance of SITTING STILL, NOT MOVING AND NOT PANICKING.

On other occasions when I’ve eaten dairy unwittingly and then walked or kept on moving about, ignoring those early warning signals of tingling lips, itching throat, swelling throat etc. I have ended up in A&E. It seems exercise, however gentle, is a bad mix if I’ve eaten one of my trigger foods.

My last serious allergic reaction at The Allergy Show this year was to a mouthful of macaroni cheese – NOT the rice milk version I was expecting but the rice pasta version with real Dairy! This was two mouthfuls of macaroni cheese with milk, cream and cheese in it. Quite a lot of dairy…

Quick thinking from my dietician (amazingly we had just met) and very good advice to just SIT STILL and wait for paramedics was very very wise. On that occasion I didn’t have an anaphylactic reaction – I just lay down with the paramedics monitoring my neck, the swelling gradually went down, my blood pressure slowed to normal and I slept. My skin also flushed a livid red on this occasion and that also slowly receded to almost normal. I slept for hours. My stomach throbbed. It burned as my fighting body fought to rid itself of this evil invader. My scalp felt like one huge hive, lumpy and bumpy, but anaphylaxis stayed just at the edges and didn’t rear its ugly head. All I took was a few antihistamines, immediately and my inhaler. Amazing.

The key for me is staying calm. When it’s happened before I’ve been alone, twice out walking and not at home. I’ve panicked. Ignored the symptoms which can begin like the start of a horrendous cold, massive mucous build up, shortness of breath… And I’ve always kept moving in a desperate fight to get home, to my hotel room, to safety, to be alone and by then it’s well on the way to BAD.

This gulp of tea did leave me feeling quite asthmaey. My blue inhaler didn’t feel like it was working so well that evening and I was coughing and feeling short of breath. But I haven’t really suffered any undue reaction apart from very mild redness on my face, back and arms and some mild asthma, which is getting better, and could just as easily be explained by changes in the weather also.

I was completely exhausted the next day. I wonder if that’s due to how hard my body had to fight to try to get rid of this tiny little bit of milk?

Has anyone else noticed how different their reactions are if they just stay calm and lie down, and act quickly with the antihistamines? Obviously if things escalate a swifth phone call to the ambulance is in order. But if, like me, you can tell the instant you eat the offending allergen, and have a dose related allergy, does it help to take anti-histamines and lie down and remain calm?

What is dose related dairy allergy?

The easiest way to describe this to explain how it feels. A crumb or drop of milk or dairy, for me, would instantly trigger my body to warn me. This would usually be tingling, a kind of shuddering in my throat, and if I’m quick enough I can spit out the food. Not so easy when you’re gulping tea.

A larger amount that is eaten without realising would elicit a more severe reaction.
The worst reaction, full blown anaphylaxis to dairy, a few years ago, happened after I ate scrambled eggs in a pub. Not a good idea at all. I later discovered they had made it with milk, cream and butter. Uh oh. I didn’t tell them about my allergy. In my head I was thinking, hey I can eat eggs, if they’re cooked. But not everyone makes scrambled eggs like me. I learnt that the hard way.
I ignored the symptoms and staggered home, by which time I needed the ambulance.

Can allergies change over time and get less severe?

Or is my dairy allergy just getting less severe? I’d love to hear what you’ve experienced.
NB: this is my dairy allergy, the nut allergy is an entirely different matter altogether… A&E all the way baby.

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About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She also won the Foods You Can People's choice Best FreeFrom blogger award 2014.


  1. What a helpful post, Ruth – I have just put a link up to it from the ‘management’ section of our Foods Matter site.

    • Thanks Michelle, I wonder if, as someone who commented on Facebook said, it has something to do with how we are brought up, to carry on, just get on with it and don’t, whatever you do, make a fuss. God forbid you ever ask for help. You can do it. You’re tough enough and strong enough to cope on your own. It’ll get better if you ignore it for long enough. This is what both my parents are like. You’ll never get them into the doctors surgery, even when my mum broke a finger we had to drag her in there weeks later. So perhaps, this in built coping and getting-on-with-it attitude makes it so hard for some of us to listen to those little signals in the body. Those early warning signs, the tingling, the shortness of breath, the body saying that we need to STOP! SIT! and remain CALM while someone else looks after us for a change.

  2. krista cousins says:

    Good post but honestly i would just ban milk from your house! Allergies can get worse over time too, my boyfriend is deathly allergic to milk, coconut and certain nuts and it’s very difficult and scary as he has been hospitalized 5 times in the past year

  3. As a lifelong nut allergy sufferer, keeping calm, still, and slowing one’s breathing and heart rate is really key. I figure it makes the allergen move more slowly through your body and th antigens build up more slowly as well. If I allow myself to panic, heartate to rise I am I. Trouble. I cannot stop a severe reaction, but I can slow it and buy myself time to deal with it. I wish more doctors would stress this as I figured it out myself, when I tell doctors they tend to say, well, of course!

    • It makes a massive difference to me to stay calm and not panic, something I learnt myself too, and maybe I have read that you shouldn’t panic but you try having an anaphylactic reaction and NOT panicing… this thing could kill you! It’s not easy. But I’ve seen it work miracles now twice, the first time the paramedics were about to do the epipen but instead gave me antihistamines, pain killers and just watched me, made my lie there for hours…and hours. All that happened was massive hive activity, which isn’t nice, but I could bear. And I didn’t need to even use the pen. I have always been out, on my own or home alone when I’ve had mine and you do panic, every time I have paniced and done totally the wrong thing. It’s a really important lesson to learn. 1) STop… monitor how bad this is, 2)TAke antihistamines, 3) SIT STILL and TELL SOMEONE. Let them panic. So glad I figured this one out. Even if you take your epipen it will still help immensely and buy time till paramedics arrive. Thanks Mb. Great comment and glad it works for others.

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