Anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock, is a severe allergic reaction that affects the entire body. It is triggered after a person is exposed to a substance to which they are allergic. Anaphylaxis does not happen to everyone with an allergy, and the symptoms are much different from a slight allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis is deadly if not treated, so it is important to speak to your doctor should you have concerns about possible allergies.
The symptoms of anaphylaxis are fairly old even though it wasn’t recorded as an actual illness. Anaphylaxis was recognized as an illness in the early 1900s by Richet and Portier.
Anaphylaxis is on the severe end of the allergic reaction spectrum. It does not occur in everyone who has an allergy.
According to FoodAllergy.org, it is suspected that there are over 1 million outbreaks of anaphylaxis a year. Food allergies are the leading cause of anaphylaxis in children and result in approximately 32,000 emergency visits and 150 deaths a year.
What happens during anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis occurs when the body senses the presence of the allergen. The reaction occurs almost immediately.
The order of symptoms resulting from anaphylaxis usually occur in the following order; the skin, respiratory distress, gastrointestinal involvement and finally cardiovascular. In the most severe situations death can result by cardiac or respiratory arrest.
Tissues in the body release a substance, know as histamine. Histamine is stored in the body and is normally non active but during an allergic reaction it is released. The hormone causes the low blood pressure and fluid leaks into the tissues from the bloodstream. As a result of this the body will go into shock.
What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?
The symptoms will often occur seconds after the body detects the allergen. It is important that should an individual exhibit the following symptoms they should seek medical assistance immediately. WebMed.com states that these are common symptoms of anaphylactic shock.
- Difficulty breathing
- Slurred speech
- Heart palpitations
- Tightness in throat
- Hoarse voice
What can cause anaphylaxis?
This allergic reaction is most commonly triggered by certain medicines (such as penicillin and certain antibiotics), foods (such as peanuts, tree nuts, shell fish, milk and eggs), insect stings (such as bees, wasps, yellow jacks, hornets and fire ants) and latex. Allergic reactions to pollen and pets often do not result in anaphylaxis and instead will normal cause slight respiratory discomfort.
In some people an allergy can be so strong that just contact with the trigger could cause an allergic reaction. An allergy is not curable but some do go away with age. If you suspect you have an allergy it may be helpful to visit with an allergist.
How is anaphylaxis treated?
Anaphylactic shock requires immediate attention and should be treated as an emergency situation. It is vital to initially check their airways, breathing and circulation and if necessary to begin performing CPR. Call 911 immediately since prompt treatment is vital. Anaphylaxis is often treated by the administration of a substance known as epinephrine. If the person has known allergies they may be calling a device known as an EpiPen. The EpiPen is an easy to use inject able device which will allow the person to administer epinephrine directly into the blood stream. The epinephrine should help raise the blood pressure and normally begins work immediately. The results are not long lasting so multiple injections may be necessary (which is another reason why it is vital to call 911).
Emergency personnel may also administer other hormones which have similar results to epinephrine. Should the airways be blocked paramedics may need to insert a tube down the person’s throat, known as endotracheal intubation. If the procedure is ineffective than an emergency surgery known as a tracheotomy may be necessary.
Shock as a result to the allergic reaction can be treated by supporting the actions of the heart via intravenous fluids and certain medications. Antihistamines like prednisone and diphenhydramine are also helpful to reduce symptoms of allergic reactions. These chemicals should be administered AFTER life saving procedures has been completed.
Should the individual not receive appropriate and immediate treatment to anaphylaxis than the condition is potentially fatal. However, the symptoms will often resolve with little complications should treatment occur immediately and correctly. Remember, the most dangerous aspect of anaphylaxis is the low blood pressure and obstructed breathing.
What is epinephrine?
Epinephrine is a hormone in the body that causes the body to go into “fight or flight” mode. It will raise blood pressure and increase blood circulation, which are two essential actions should a person begin to show the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is the best form of immediate treatment for someone who is having a severe allergic reaction. However, epinephrine is a strong hormone and an individual should receive medical attention after administration even if they are no longer exhibiting physical distress. Epinephrine is available to carry, by prescription only, via the EpiPen. This easy to use device allows non-medical individuals to administer the life saving epinephrine.
How can anaphylaxis be prevented?
The most obvious way is to avoid any of the substances that may trigger an allergic reaction. If it is a food allergy it may be helpful to call ahead to restaurants, carefully read the labels on food (even if you don’t think the allergen may be in it), as well as taking allergy shots. In regards to medicine and insect related allergies the most helpful way to prevent the reaction is by informing your medical doctor and having it recorded on any medical files. It is also helpful to wear a medic alert bracelet, which indicated that you have an allergy to a specific substance.
If, for some reason, you can not avoid the trigger administration of epinephrine is essential. Anaphylaxis is a serious condition and should always be taken seriously. Be sure to let your child’s school or your workplace is aware of any potentially serious allergies so should something occur help an appropriate action is immediately done.