International Moves

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis (ana-pha-lax-sis) is a term that describes a severe systemic allergic reaction. Some of the symptoms can include:

  • -urticaria (hives on the skin)

  • -swelling of the mouth, tongue, throat, face, or extremities

  • -profuse vomiting/diarrhea

  • -difficulty breathing, wheezing, throat tightness

  • -drooling, altered consciousness

  • -low blood pressure and heart rate (shock)

If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to severe illness and even death within minutes.

What causes anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis can be caused by many different things, including severe allergy to foods or the environment, allergy to drugs, and reactions to allergy shots. In rare cases, exercise, sunlight and cold temperatures can cause anaphylaxis. Sometimes a cause is not found.

How is anaphylaxis diagnosed?

Any combination of the above symptoms, often in relation to an exposure to a known allergen, can be useful in diagnosing anaphylaxis.

How is anaphylaxis treated?

The acute treatment of anaphylaxis is to stop the reaction with a life-saving medication such as injectable epinephrine (EpiPen or EpiPen Jr). ALWAYS USE AN EPIPEN FIRST FOR A SEVERE REACTION, NOT BENADRYL OR OTHER ANTIHISTAMINE.

If you suspect you or someone you know is having an anaphylactic reaction and you do not have an EpiPen, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital to be evaluated. Other therapies in addition to epinephrine can include antihistamines, steroids, IV fluids, breathing treatments, and blood pressure medications depending on the severity of the reaction. Rarely, there can be a second round of symptoms up to 48 hours after the initial symptoms, which is treated similarly.

How I can avoid anaphylaxis?

If you know you are allergic to something specific, like a drug or food, be aware and avoid any potential exposures. Wear a medic alert bracelet so others will know your allergies. If you have been diagnosed with severe allergies, always carry a current EpiPen or EpiPen Jr in case of accidental exposure.

Remember, with anaphylaxis, time is of the essence! Never be afraid to call 911 or administer an EpiPen if you suspect a severe allergic reaction.
If you have any questions about hives, see your allergist--we can help!!

--- By Dr. Katharine S. Nelson