For some people with severe allergies, exposure to their allergen
can result in a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a
severe allergic reaction to venom, food, or medication. Most cases are caused
by a bee sting or eating foods that are known to cause allergies, such as
peanuts or tree nuts.
Anaphylaxis causes a series of symptoms, including a rash, low
pulse, and shock, which is known as anaphylactic shock. This can be fatal if it
isn’t treated immediately.
Once you’ve been diagnosed, your healthcare provider will likely
recommend that you carry a medication called epinephrine with you at all times.
This medication can stop future reactions from becoming life-threatening.
The Signs of Anaphylaxis
Symptoms usually occur immediately after you come into contact
with the allergen. These can include:
- abdominal pain
- slurred speech
- facial swelling
- trouble breathing
- low pulse
- difficulty swallowing
- itchy skin
- swelling in mouth and throat
Your body is in constant contact with foreign substances. It
produces antibodies to defend itself from these substances. In most cases, the
body doesn’t react to the antibodies being released. However, in the case of
anaphylaxis, the immune system overreacts in a way that causes a full-body
Common causes of anaphylaxis include medication, peanuts, tree
nuts, insect stings, fish, shellfish, and milk. Other causes may include
exercise and latex.
Is Anaphylaxis Diagnosed?
You will most likely be diagnosed with anaphylaxis if the
following symptoms are present:
- mental confusion
- throat swelling
- weakness or dizziness
- blue skin
- rapid or abnormal heart rate
- facial swelling
- low blood pressure
While you are in the emergency room, the healthcare provider will
use a stethoscope to listen for crackling sounds when you breathe. Crackling
sounds could indicate fluid in the lungs.
After treatment is administered, your healthcare provider will
ask questions to determine if you’ve had allergies before.
Is Anaphylaxis Treated?
If you or someone near you begins to develop symptoms of
anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately.
If you have had a past episode, use your epinephrine medication
at the onset of the symptoms and then call 911.
If you’re helping someone who is having an attack, reassure them
that help is on the way. Lay the person on their back. Raise their feet up 12
inches, and cover them with a blanket.
If the person has been stung, use a plastic card to apply
pressure to the skin an inch below the stinger. Slowly slide the card towards
the stinger. Once the card is under the stinger, flick the card upward to
release the stinger from the skin. Avoid using tweezers. Squeezing the stinger
will inject more venom. If the person has emergency allergy medication
available, administer it to them. Don’t attempt to give the person an oral
medication if they’re having trouble breathing.
If the person has stopped breathing or their heart has stopped
beating, CPR will be needed.
At the hospital, people with anaphylaxis are given adrenaline,
the common name for epinephrine, medication to minimize the reaction. If you’ve
already administrated this medication to yourself or had someone administer it
to you, notify the healthcare provider.
In addition, you may receive oxygen, cortisone,
or a fast-acting beta-agonist inhaler.
Are the Complications of Anaphylaxis?
Some people may go into anaphylactic
shock. It’s also possible to stop breathing or experience airway blockage
due to the inflammation of the airways. Sometimes, it can cause a heart attack.
All of these complications are potentially fatal.
Do You Prevent Anaphylaxis?
Avoid the allergen that can trigger a reaction. If you are
considered at risk for having anaphylaxis, your healthcare provider will
suggest you carry adrenaline medication, such as epinephrine
injector, to counter the reaction.
The injectable version of this medication is usually stored in a
device known as an auto-injector. An auto-injector is a small device that
carries a syringe filled with a single dose of the medication. As soon as you
begin to have symptoms of anaphylaxis, press the auto-injector against your
thigh. Regularly check the expiration date and replace any auto-injector that is
due to expire.