Exactly What Is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that comes on quickly and can cause severe symptoms affecting multiple parts of the body. It is a medical emergency and can progress from seemingly mild initial symptoms to a life-threatening situation very rapidly.
Because anaphylaxis is a dangerous allergic reaction, being alert to these symptoms and their triggers is critical. 1
- Skin redness, rash, swelling
- Severe itching
- Swelling of the face, lips, mouth or tongue
- Tightness of the throat
- Hoarse voice
- Trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Losing control of urine or bowel movements
- Feeling very anxious or confused
- Cardiac arrest
The most dangerous symptoms are low blood pressure, breathing difficulty and loss of consciousness, all of which can be fatal. The most common causes of anaphylaxis are foods, medications and insect stings. In the United States, the number of anaphylactic events has risen in recent years with data estimating that food-related allergic emergencies send someone to the hospital, on average, every three minutes.1 If you (or anyone you are with) begin to have an allergic reaction, epinephrine should be administered immediately, and you should call for medical help to get the patient to the nearest emergency room. 2
What Causes Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis can occur when someone susceptible is exposed to certain allergens, commonly specific foods, insect stings and bites, medications, and latex. Even if the first reaction is mild, subsequent reactions can become more severe. Those who have experienced a severe allergic reaction are at risk for future reactions. Individuals with asthma and/or other allergies who have experienced severe allergic reactions are more likely to experience anaphylaxis, even when it has not occurred with a previous allergen exposure. 1
Anaphylactic Reactions Can Be Unpredictable.
That’s why it's important to carry, know how, and be ready to use self-injectable epinephrine if you are at risk. An anaphylaxis emergency plan that addresses both anaphylaxis prevention and the importance of using epinephrine could save your life. 3 We recommend these steps:
- Identify and Avoid Allergens.
Think about what you might have eaten or been expose to – food, insect sting, medication, latex – that triggered an allergic reaction. It is particularly important to identify the cause because the best way to prevent anaphylaxis is to avoid its trigger. 3
- Understand Anaphylaxis and Recognize Its Signs and Symptoms.
- Create and Follow an Emergency Action Plan with the Help of One of Our Specialists.
- Have Access to 2 Epinephrine Auto-injectors at All Times.
Make sure that family and friends know about your condition, your triggers and how to use epinephrine.
- Consider Wearing an Emergency Medical Tag Identifying Your Allergy Triggers and the Risk of Anaphylaxis.
Family members, friends, teachers, employers, healthcare workers and other caregivers should be informed about your risk for anaphylaxis and what to do in an allergic emergency. 3
- Seek immediate medical help in the event of a reaction.
Call 911 and get to the nearest emergency facility at the first sign of anaphylaxis, even if you have already administered an epinephrine dose. 3
MYTHS and FACTS about Anaphylaxis 1
There are many misconceptions about life-threatening allergic reactions. So, let’s separate fact from fiction regarding anaphylaxis and discuss the realities of what it is, who it affects and how often it really occurs.
What does anaphylaxis look like?MYTH: It can’t be anaphylaxis if there are no visible skin symptoms like hives or rash.
FACT: It’s possible to experience anaphylaxis without skin symptoms. Other symptoms, like dizziness, low blood pressure, and difficulty breathing can occur without the presence of hives or rash.
If you or someone you know with known risk of anaphylaxis has come into contact with an allergen, look for visible symptoms like skin rash. But be aware of the other potential symptoms of anaphylaxis as well. If any are present, rescue medication like epinephrine should be administered as soon as possible and emergency medical treatment should be sought
How long does it take for anaphylaxis to develop?MYTH: Anaphylaxis takes hours or days to occur.
FACT: Anaphylaxis develops rapidly, with peakseverity usually occurring within 5 to 30 minutes of contact with an allergen.takes hours or days to occur.
While you should always avoid allergens and understand the symptoms of anaphylaxis, when it occurs, it's important to administer epinephrine right away, and to seek immediate emergency medical attention.
What’s the best first response to anaphylaxis?MYTH: Antihistamines are a good first response to anaphylaxis.
FACT: Actually, epinephrine should be your initial response. You should then seek immediate emergency medical attention.
Drugs like antihistamines have a delayed onset of action and do not treat all of the symptoms of anaphylaxis. That’s why it’s important to use epinephrine, which begins to work rapidly.
Where does anaphylaxis most often occur?MYTH: Allergen avoidance should be focused on the classroom and cafeteria, where kids who are at risk are most likely to experience anaphylaxis.
FACT: Anaphylaxis can happen anywhere, including in and around school. In fact, a study of allergic reactions in the school setting found that about 20% occurred outside the school building, such as on the playground, the bus, or on field trips.
The care taken to avoid allergens inside the school should be the same care taken to avoid allergens outside the building. Bus drivers, chaperones, and other school staff should be allergen aware, and trained in case they’re called upon to administer epinephrine in the event of an allergic emergency.
What’s the story on peanut allergies?MYTH: Many Americans are allergic to peanuts.
FACT: Only about 0.6% of all Americans are allergic to peanuts, and an estimated 1.4% of children younger than 18 years old have a peanut allergy.
Though peanut allergy prevalence is relatively low, studies suggest that the prevalence of this allergy has tripled among children over the last 2 decades. The result? The peanut itself has become a symbol of the condition more parents and children find themselves facing.