All you need to know about anaphylaxis

In majority of cases, people who suffer from allergies usually develop mild or moderate symptoms like a runny nose, waterly eyes or rashes. However, exposure to allergens, including harmless ones, can lead to a life threatening reaction referred to as anaphylaxis.

What is anaphylaxis

PrintAnaphylaxis is a serious, life threatening allergic reaction that is usually marked by hives, swelling, dialated blood vessels and lowered blood pressure. The condition is also referred to as analyphatic shock as patients usually goes into a series of shocks. These shocks, if not immediately treated, can be fatal. Anaphylaxis should be treated always as an emergency. Anaphylaxis is a rare condition.

This condition develop when the immune system produces an allergen-fighting antibody referred to as IgE (immunoglobulin E). The antibody drives an exaggerated inappropriate reaction towards substances that are usually harmless, for instance, medications. The body may not react on initial exposure but produces antibodies with future exposures. When the body is exposed to the allergen later, the antibodies binds to the receptors of these allergens leading to the production of large amount of histamine. Histamine causes all the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Such symptoms usually puts the patient into a shock. A second shock, referred to as a biphasic reaction, may occur some 12 hours after the initial reaction.

Food allergies, latex and insect stings are also associated with the condition.


food_allergies_wabwoSymptoms usually occurs suddenly and can progress at a very fast rate. Early symptoms are usually mild and include a runny nose, a “strange feeling” or a skin rash. The symptoms then lead to serious symptoms which include:

  • Difficulties in breathing
  • Hives and swelling
  • Nausea
  • Hoarse voice
  • Vomitting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnorminal pains
  • Fainting
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Diagnosis

People with a history of allergic reactions and/or are asthmatic and have experienced a previous severe reaction are at a greater risk. Allergists have the expertise and training to conduct tests that will indicate the specific triggers. Such tests include oral food challenges, skin prick tests and blood tests. It is highly recommended that you consult with a trained allergist if you are unsure whether an attack you had earlier was anaphylactic.

Management and Treatment

An anaphylaxis should be treated with epinephrine (Adrenaline) injection immediately. Doses are available by prescription and come in auto-injectors that should be kept by the patient at all times. At times, two or more injections may be required to manage an attack.

Knowing and avoiding triggers is the best way to reduce the risk of anaphylaxis. The common triggers are:

  • Food allergies- These include tree nuts (such as pecans and walnuts), shellfish, fish, eggs and milk.
  • Latex- it is usually found in intravenous tubes, disposable gloves, adhesive tapes, catheters and syringes.
  • Medication- includes aspirin, penicillin and anti-inflammatory drugs and anesthesia.
  • Stings and bites from insects- wasps, bees, yellow jackets, hornets and fireants are associated with triggering anaphylaxis. People at a high risk should avoid walking barefoot, wearing bright clothings and using sweet-smelling perfumes.

People who suffer from anaphylaxis are advised to always wear an identification that will enable people to know what to do when a severe attack occurs. They should also inform their friends and family on how to recognize the symptoms and what to do in the case of an attack.