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An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system reacts to something that usually does not affect most people. Allergies can be triggered by a wide range of substances and environmental conditions including the most common form known as hay fever.

Mild reactions can cause eczema or watery eyes to more severe shortages of breath or wheezing. All severe reactions must be regarded as a medical emergency which calls for an immediate first aid and medical response. Anaphylaxis is the most severe type of allergic reaction and can be potentially life-threatening.

Common causes of allergic reactions


The most common foods which cause allergic reactions are nuts, eggs, milk, seeds, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. Any foods can potentially cause anaphylaxis even in very small quantities. It is advisable to know which foods contain these allergens so that people with allergies can be made aware when arranging event catering.

Bites and Stings

Stings from bees, wasps and ants are common insect causes of anaphylaxis.


Prescribed medications, over the counter medications from pharmacies such as aspirin and herbal or ‘alternative’ medicines all have the potential to cause allergic reactions.

Other triggers

There are other possible causes of allergic reactions such as to latex or even exercise. Sometimes the trigger cannot be identified despite thorough investigation.

Signs and symptoms

Mild to moderate reactions

  • tingling of mouth
  • swelling of lips, eyes and face
  • hives, body rash, itching
  • vomiting and/or abdominal pain

Severe allergic reactions - anaphylaxis

  • difficult or noisy breathing
  • wheezing or persistent cough
  • difficulty talking or hoarse voice
  • swelling/tightness of throat
  • swelling of the tongue
  • children may become pale and floppy
  • loss of consciousness or collapse

Symptoms of anaphylaxis can occur within the first 20 minutes and may take up to 2 hours following exposure to the trigger. Initial symptoms may appear quite mild or moderate but can progress rapidly to become life threatening. In the most severe cases blood pressure may fall dramatically.

Personal declaration form, action plans and instruction videos

It is important that completed forms and action plans are held somewhere readily accessible (eg the individual should maintain a copy on them and a copy could also be provided to their supervisor/colleague).

Personal declaration form

The following declaration is to be completed when appropriate to ensure that the University is informed of risk to individuals from known allergies and to enable the correct response in the event of an allergic reaction.

FORM - Declaration of a known allergy [83 KB PDF]

FORM - Declaration of a known allergy [321 KB RTF]

Action plans and instruction videos

If a personal declaration form is completed, it may be appropriate to set out an action plan for use in emergency. The website below provides blank action plans which can be downloaded for completion. There are also instruction videos on how to use adrenaline autoinjectors (Epipen/Anapen).

Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

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