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Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that affects a number of different body systems. Anaphylaxis is most often caused by food allergy especially peanuts and tree nuts. Other causes of anaphylaxis include insect stings, latex and certain medications such as penicillin.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis can vary in severity. Sometimes, the symptoms are not life-threatening, but in some people it can be extreme and lead to death. Anaphylaxis symptoms usually occur rapidly and may include the following:

  • Skin reactions, including hives along with itching, redness, and swelling
  • Nose: sneezing; runny nose; stuffy nose (congestion)
  • Mouth: Itching, swelling of the lips, tongue or mouth
  • Throat: Difficulty swallowing, itching, swelling and throat tightness
  • Respiratory symptoms that may be present include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and chest pain
  • Cardiac effects from anaphylaxis include weak pulse, passing out and shock
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms may include abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Nervous system symptoms include dizziness or fainting

Your allergist will ask for a detailed medical history to identify the specific allergen that caused anaphylaxis. You may be tested for allergies with skin tests or blood tests to identify and confirm allergy triggers so that you can take steps to prevent future reactions.

An anaphylactic reaction can occur as:

  • A single reaction that generally begins immediately after exposure to a trigger. This condition usually resolves within minutes to hours with or without any specific treatment and symptoms may not reoccur later relative to that episode.
  • Two reactions: Here the person has a reaction that resolves and then recurs. The second reaction usually occurs within eight hours, but may occur up to 72 hours after the initial symptoms.
  • A single, long-lasting reaction that persists for hours or even days after the initial reaction

Treatment

If you or someone around you have an allergic reaction that might be anaphylaxis, call 911 for emergency medical services and seek immediate medical attention. An epinephrine auto-injector may be used if available to inject the medication into the thigh muscle. After injecting epinephrine you are positioned in a reclining position with the feet raised to help restore normal circulation. Your healthcare provider also may give secondary treatments with medications such as corticosteroids and antihistamines, supplemental oxygen therapy, and intravenous fluids.

As anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction, if you experience these symptoms you should see a doctor who specializes in allergies and immunology.

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