Allergies and Anaphylaxis

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 18 March 2021

Allergies and Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. If you get an anaphylactic reaction, you should have an epinephrine (adrenaline) shot right away, and someone should contact 999 for assistance. It may be fatal if left untreated.

Within minutes, adrenaline will counteract the effects. If this does not occur, you will need a second shot within the next half-hour. Pre-filled and ready-to-use pens are included in these shots, which require a prescription.

An antihistamine should not be used to treat an anaphylactic response.

Anaphylaxis is rare, and most people recover. That being said, all opioid reactions must be reported to the doctor prior to receiving all medical treatment, including dental care. Wearing a medical alert bracelet or pendant, or carrying a card with details regarding the allergy, is often a wise decision.

You’re more likely to have another anaphylactic response if you’ve had one previously. If you have asthma or have a family history of anaphylaxis, you’re at a greater risk.

Symptoms

The first signs of an anaphylactic reaction may look like typical allergy symptoms: a runny nose or a skin rash. But within about 30 minutes, more serious signs appear.

There is usually more than one of these:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Hives – itchy, red swollen rash on skin
  • Runny or congested nose
  • Sneezing
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Swollen or itchy lips or tongue
  • Swollen or itchy throat or tightness in throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Weak pulse
  • Pale skin

Some people even recall having a “doom and gloom feeling" just before the attack.

Within 12 hours after the first anaphylactic reaction, 1 out of every 5 people may experience a second one. Anaphylaxis in two phases is known as biphasic anaphylaxis.

Treatment

The most effective medication for anaphylaxis is Adrenaline, which can be administered as quickly as possible (usually in the thigh). If you’ve already experienced an anaphylactic response, have at least two doses of Adrenaline with you at all times.

Since adrenaline has a one-year shelf life, make sure your medication is up to date. In emergency situations, t ake the shot even if the pen has expired and you are having an anaphylactic response.

Once medical help comes, you will be given more adrenaline. If you can’t breathe, they may insert a tube into your mouth or nose to assist you in your breathing. If this doesn’t succeed, they can perform a tracheostomy, which involves inserting the tube directly into the windpipe.

You may require fluids and medicines to help you breathe, whether in the ambulance or at the hospital. If your symptoms don’t improve, your doctor can prescribe antihistamines and steroids.

To be sure you don’t get a second reaction, you’ll also need to remain in the emergency department for several hours.

Consult an allergy specialist after the incident has ended, especially if you don’t know what triggered the reaction.

Causes

Anaphylaxis occurs when an antibody, which normally fights infection, overreacts to something harmless, such as food. It does not happen the first moment you experience the stimulus, but it may evolve over time.

The most serious cause in children is food poisoning. Medication is the primary cause in adulthood.

The following foods are common food triggers for children:

  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Wheat

The following foods are common food triggers for adults:

  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts (walnuts, hazel nuts, cashews, pistachios, pine nuts, and almonds)
  • Peanuts

Some individuals are hypersensitive to the extent that even the scent of food may induce an allergic reaction. Few individuals are also allergic to certain dietary preservatives.

The following are some of the more common medication triggers:

  • Penicillin – more commonly in injection form rather than tablet form
  • Muscle relaxants – used in anaesthesia
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen, and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Anti-seizure medications

Anaphylaxis may also be caused by a number of other causes. These, on the other hand, aren’t as common:

  • Pollen
  • Stings or bites from bees and other insects
  • Latex

Inhaling latex can cause anaphylactic reactions in certain people.

It may be caused in rare circumstances by 2 to 4 hours of exercise after consuming such foods or by exercise alone.

Anaphylactic reactions typically begin minutes after coming into contact with the trigger, but they may also occur an hour or more later.

Some people never figure out why they react the way they do.

Sources

Referenced on 2.3.2021:

  1. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Anaphylaxis."
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics: “Anaphylaxis."
  3. American College of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology: “Anaphylaxis."
  4. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: “Anaphylaxis: A Severe Allergic Reaction."
  5. Cleveland Clinic: “Anaphylaxis."
  6. Food Allergy Research & Education: “About Anaphylaxis."
  7. World Allergy Organization: “Anaphylaxis: Synopsis."
  8. https://www.webmd.com/allergies/anaphylaxis

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