Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction. It can cause a potentially fatal condition known as anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that should be treated immediately. In the event of an anaphylactic reaction, the person suffering from anaphylactic shock should receive an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) as soon as possible and call local emergency number for immediate medical attention. If anaphylactic shock is left untreated, it can be fatal.

Anaphylaxis Symptoms

The first signs of an anaphylactic reaction may resemble typical allergy symptoms such as a runny nose or skin rash. However, more serious signs appear within about 30 minutes.

The symptoms that usually occur are as follows:

  • Cough; wheeze; and chest pain, itching, or tightness
  • Fainting, dizziness, weakness
  • Hives; a rash, itchy, swollen or red skin
  • Runny or stuffy nose and sneezing
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing, fast heartbeat
  • Swollen or itchy lips, tongue
  • Swollen or itchy throat, hoarse voice, trouble swallowing, throat tightness
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or cramps
  • Weak pulse, pallor

More than 1 in 5 people may have a second anaphylactic reaction within the first 12 hours. This is called biphasic anaphylaxis.

Causes of Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis usually happens when there is an antibody that fights infection, overreacting to something that does not harm, such as food. It may not occur when the trigger is first contacted, but it can develop over time. The most common cause in children is food. For adults, the main reason is medication.

Common causes of anaphylaxis include medications, peanuts, tree nuts, insect bites, fish, shellfish, and milk. Other reasons may include exercise and latex.

Anaphylaxis Treatment

Anaphylaxis is a preventable and treatable condition. Knowing the triggers is the first step in prevention. Children and caregivers should be educated about how to avoid food allergens and/or other triggers.

However, as accidental exposure is a reality, children and caregivers need to be able to recognize the symptoms of an anaphylaxis and be ready to give adrenaline. Studies show that deaths occur more frequently away from home and are associated with disuse or delay in adrenaline use.

Allergens Causing Anaphylaxis

Common triggers of severe allergies or anaphylaxis include:

  • Foods

Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy are the most common food triggers that cause 90 percent of allergic reactions; however, any food can trigger anaphylaxis. It is important to understand that even a small amount of food can cause a life-threatening reaction in some people. Some extremely sensitive individuals may only react to the smell of food being cooked (such as fish) and even to kissing someone who has eaten the food they are allergic to.

  • Bites and Stings

Bee, wasp and jumper ant stings are the most common triggers of anaphylaxis against insect bites. Ticks, green ants, and fire ants can also trigger anaphylaxis in susceptible individuals.

  • Medicines

Both over-the-counter and prescribed medications can cause life-threatening allergic reactions. Individuals may also have anaphylactic reactions to herbal or ‘alternative’ drugs.

  • Other

Other triggers such as latex or exercise-induced anaphylaxis are less common. From time to time, a trigger cannot be identified despite extensive research.

Adrenaline Auto Injector Use

If someone has a reaction or one of the injectors doesn’t work, the person should always carry two injectors with him/her in case a second dose is needed. Excessive heat and cold can damage the medication in auto injectors, so the injectors should be stored at room temperature.

Injectors usually have an expiration date of one year, so the date on the box should be followed.

Adrenaline autoinjectors are used in emergency situations to treat severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). It is designed to deliver a single, fixed dose of adrenaline and can be given by anyone, including medically untrained people. Adrenaline treats very low blood pressure and poor blood circulation that occurs when someone has a severe allergic reaction. It also relaxes the lungs to help you breathe and reduces swelling, skin rashes and itching.

How to use an adrenaline auto injector?

  • Lay the person flat.
  • Hold the adrenaline autoinjector firmly in your hand and remove the blue safety cap.
  • Keep the leg steady and place the orange tip toward your outer mid thigh. You can inject through clothing.
  • Press hard until you hear or feel a click.
  • Hold for 3 seconds.
  • Remove the adrenaline auto injector.
  • Call an ambulance and continue anaphylactic first aid.

If there is no response within 5 minutes of giving the first dose, other doses of adrenaline may be given.