Anaphylaxis is an extreme, life-threatening allergic reaction. Symptoms appear in seconds or minutes. If you were lucky enough to survive a prior anaphylactic reaction, consider it a warning. Don't wait for your next "close call." See your doctor to have your allergy symptoms evaluated. And, know the red flags.
Red flags, body-wide
Symptoms of anaphylaxis usually start within seconds or minutes after exposure. Beware of any of the following signs of anaphylaxis:
Reactions almost always involve:
- Hives, which are red, often itchy raised bumps on the surface of the skin
- Flushing, or redness and warmth, especially in the face, neck and upper chest
Eyes, nose and mouth
- Swelling of the skin around the eyes, plus itchy, red eyes
- Runny nose and congestion
- Swelling of the lips and tongue
- A possible metallic taste
Lungs and airways
- Difficulty getting air in and out
- Panting or rapid, shallow breathing
- Coughing, chest tightness and wheezing
- Increased mucous production
- Throat swelling or itching
- Hoarseness and/or change in voice
- Sensation of choking
- Rapid, thready pulse (not a distinct beat)
- Drop in blood pressure (this may cause dizziness, lightheadedness or passing out)
- Stomach cramping
- A feeling described as "impending doom."
- Fainting. Sudden loss of consciousness may be the only symptom and can occur after a bee sting or following an injection with a medication.
Double whammy: the biphasic reaction
One percent to as many as 20 percent of people with anaphylaxis have a biphasic or delayed reaction. This means that symptoms go away at first. Then, within eight to 72 hours, without further exposure to the trigger, symptoms return. So if you have a "close call" or severe allergic reaction and symptoms subside, you should still seek emergency help.
What to do?
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 right away.
If you are having a severe allergic reaction - or are with someone who is - call 9-1-1 to seek emergency medical help.
Use your epinephrine (epi-pen) if you carry one, or ask the person with symptoms if they have an epinephrine auto-injector (also called EpiPen, EpiPen Jr, Twinject). Use the epi-pen right away. Epinephrine is a fast-acting drug that reverses airway constriction and restores blood pressure. But the effects are only temporary. Still seek emergency medical care even if your symptoms improve.
Created on 11/09/2009
Updated on 11/11/2009
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- National Jewish Health. Anaphylaxis: Overview.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Anaphylaxis
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