Anaphylaxis is an extremely dangerous physical reaction to an allergy. If not immediately treated, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. It can lead to trouble breathing and heart problems that may be fatal. Learn the four most common causes of anaphylaxis to potentially protect yourself and others from this medical emergency.
What Is Anaphylaxis? What Are the Symptoms?
Anaphylaxis refers to a severe or acute allergic reaction to an antigen or allergen. It is a full-body reaction to a chemical to which the body has become hypersensitive. Anaphylaxis is also referred to as anaphylactic shock. It is a flood of chemicals that is released by the immune system in reaction to an allergen.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include:
- Constricted airways
- Swollen tongue or throat
- Trouble breathing
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Skin rash or hives
- Flushed or pale skin
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Fainting or loss of consciousness
Anaphylaxis means the body is overreacting to something. It is responding to a trigger with a flood of antibodies typically used to fight infection. This can lead to a severe drop in blood pressure and a loss of oxygen to the cells. If someone experiences any of the signs of anaphylaxis, he or she needs immediate medical care.
The Four Most Common Causes of Anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis can be caused by contact with a variety of triggers. Typically, they are things that are harmless, such as food. If the body has an extreme reaction to the trigger as if it were a contagion, it could lead to anaphylaxis. The four most common causes of anaphylaxis are:
- Foods: common culprits are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, sesame, seafood and some fruits.
- Medicines: certain antibiotics, aspirin, over-the-counter pain relievers, and the contrast agents or dyes used in some imaging tests.
- Insect stings: especially stings from bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants.
- General anesthetic: some patients have life-threatening allergic reactions to general anesthesia, such as the type used for surgical procedures.
In some cases, there is no clear trigger for anaphylaxis. This is known as idiopathic anaphylaxis. If the cause is known, it is safest for the victim to avoid the trigger to prevent future episodes. Additional exposures to the trigger could lead to more severe reactions.
Treatment Options for Anaphylaxis
If you or someone near you appears to be having a severe allergic reaction or is going into anaphylactic shock, take immediate action. This is a medical emergency that requires prompt intervention and professional assistance. Here’s what to do:
- If available, use an adrenaline auto-injector, such as an EpiPen, to deliver medicine quickly and effectively.
- Call 911 immediately. Explain that someone is having an allergic reaction and needs professional medical care right away.
- If possible, remove the trigger. If an insect stinger is still in the victim’s skin, for example, carefully remove it.
- Have the victim lie down and elevate the legs, unless the individual is having trouble breathing. If this is the case, the victim should sit up to help with breathing.
- If available, give a second adrenaline injection after five minutes if symptoms persist. Wait with the victim until paramedics arrive.
The main treatment for anaphylaxis is an adrenaline auto-injector, such as EpiPen, Jext or Emerade. At a hospital, a person in anaphylactic shock may receive an oxygen mask to aid with breathing, fluids to increase blood pressure, and antihistamines or steroids to relieve symptoms. Speak with an attorney experienced in handling fatal allergic reactions claims in Philadelphia if a loved one suffers deadly wounds.