Anaphylaxis is a rapid, severe allergic response that occurs
when a person is exposed to allergen, an allergy-causing
substance, to which he or she has been previously sensitized.
It is brought on when the allergen enters the bloodstream,
causing the release of chemicals throughout the body that try to
protect it from the foreign substance.
SYMPTOMS: WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Anaphylaxis can affect various organ systems, including the
skin, upper and lower respiratory tracts, cardiovascular system,
eyes, uterus and bladder.
The initial symptoms may appear within a few seconds, or up
to two hours after exposure. Symptoms that signal the onset of
an extreme allergic reaction include:
- Itching of the skin and raised rashM (hives)
- Flushing, swelling of the tissues of the lips, throat,
tongue, hands and feet
- Wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, hoarseness
- Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps
- Sense of impending doom, loss of consciousness
WHO WILL GET ANAPHYLAXIS?
Anyone can experience anaphylaxis - not just those with known
allergies to common causes. Anaphylaxis poses a small, but
significant risk to the public:
- Risk of death from anaphylaxis for any one person is
estimated to be about one percent.
- One to two million people in the U.S. are estimated to
be severely allergic to insect bites, resulting in 40 - 100
deaths per year.
WHAT CAUSES ANAPHYLAXIS?
In rare cases, the cause is called idiopathic, or unknown.
However, anaphylaxis is most commonly triggered by:
- Stings of bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire
- Foods, including peanuts, milk, eggs, shellfish,
whitefish, and other nuts, as well as some food additives.
- Medications, including certain antibiotics (most
commonly peniccillin), as well as seizure medications,
muscle relaxants, and even aspirin and non-steriodal
Extreme allergic reactions should never be minimized.
Because death can occur within minutes anaphylaxis requires
In addition, anaphylaxis must not be mistaken for other
reactions which may have similar symptoms. These reactions
include: hyperventilation, anxiety attack, alcohol intoxication
and low blood sugar.
There is no specific test for anaphylaxis. However, allergy
testing can help determine what substances an individual may be
allergic to, and provide guidance for the physician as to the
severity of the allergy. Diagnosis is based primarily on:
- Medical history, including immediate past exposure to
- Physical examination
- Response to treatment
Patient awareness and avoidance of triggering substances are
key to avoiding severe allergic reactions. However, patients
who are susceptible should ask their physician about the drug
epinephrine (adrenaline) and learn how to self-administer this
medication for the treatment of anaphylaxis whether from insect
stings, foods, medications, or other allergens.
Epinephrine works directly on the cardiovascular and
respiratory systems to counter the potentially fatal effects of
anaphylaxis by rapidly constricting the blood vessels, relaxing
muscles in the lungs to improve breathing , reversing swelling
and stimulating the heartbeat. The sooner the allergic reaction
is treated, the greater the likelihood of survival.
The availability of epinephrine in an easy-to-use,
self-administered drug delivery system has greatly improved
anaphylaxis treatment. A self-administered, auto-injector
provides emergency treatment without syringes. This disposable
system, when simply jabbed against the outer thigh, delivers a
pre-loaded dose of epinephrine. The rapid action and concealed
needle minimize apprehension and provide the lifesaving
medication with little or no pain.
So remember, with just a little preparation and awareness,
you can reduce your risk of extreme allergic emergency - and
The best treatment for anaphylaxis is prevention, by avoiding
substances and situations that are known to trigger extreme
Follow these tips to help reduce your risk of anaphylaxis
from insect bites:
- Avoid areas where stinging and biting insects congregate
- When outdoors, keep foods covered
- Regularly clean outdoor eating, barbeque and garbage
- Mow lawns and tend to gardens with caution to avoid
disturbing insect nests
- Avoid perfume, sprays and lotions, which attract insects
- Avoid bright colors and bold or flowered print clothing
- Avoid public trash baskets
- Use non-allergenic insect repellents; keep an
insecticide aerosol in the car.
For drug, food and exercise anaphylaxis, the only advice is
to avoid the substance or activity known to cause the reaction.
In the case of severe food allergies, it is always a good idea
to take that extra step: when in a restaurant, alert the waiter
to any food allergies, and when shopping be sure to read labels
to identify unsuspected ingredients.
If you think you may have a life=threatening allergic
condition, see your physician for proper diagnosis and
treatment. As with any medical condition, see your physician
for proper diagnosis and treatment. Make sure your doctor knows
your complete medical history. In addition, you should carry
medical identification, in the form of a card and/or bracelet.