Anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction that can be life threatening. It results in a sudden reaction to a substance to which you’re allergic, such as the venom from a bee sting or from a peanut.
Anyone who experiences anaphylaxis must get to an emergency room immediately for an injection of epinephrine, according to the Mayo Clinic. Failure to do so can result in loss of consciousness or death.
This condition results when a person’s immune system overreacts to a substance that shouldn’t cause an allergic reaction. The patient’s immune system ignites a chemical chain reaction that ends with symptoms of an allergy. While these reactions aren’t life threatening for most individuals, some people have such a severe allergic reaction that it results in anaphylaxis.
The chemicals the immune system releases can cause the patient to go into shock. The overt signs include a sudden drop in blood pressure and a narrowing of the airways that blocks normal breathing. The patient might also experience a rapid but weak pulse, a skin rash, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms typically occur within minutes after exposure to the allergen.
Among medications, penicillin is a frequent trigger. The most offending foods, the Mayo Clinic reports, are peanuts, tree nuts such as walnuts and pecans, fish, shellfish, milk and eggs. Stings from bees, wasps, yellow jackets, fire ants and hornets are also frequent instigators. Less common are latex, muscle relaxants utilized during general anesthesia and exercise.
How exercise triggers anaphylaxis varies from one individual to the next. Aerobic activity like jogging causes the condition in some. However, for others, much less intense activity such a yard work is enough to set off a reaction. Some people also report a link between eating specific foods before exercise or exercising during particular weather conditions tied to temperature and humidity.
Fortunately, anaphylaxis is not a common occurrence. If you’re unable to pinpoint a trigger, your doctor might decide to test you to determine the potential allergens. Patients whose triggers are never identified are said to suffer from idiopathic anaphylaxis.
Individuals with a history of allergies or asthma are considered to be at an increased risk for anaphylaxis. Since second and subsequent reactions can be more severe than the first occurrence, it’s important that anyone who’s experienced the condition consult a physician.
Complications of a severe anaphylaxic attack can make the condition life threatening. They include cessation of breathing or heartbeat. Either of these requires immediately emergency treatment. The emergency medical staff can administer several medications. Epinephrine (adrenaline) reduces the body’s response to the allergen, while oxygen is used to help compensate for restricted breathing. Intravenous antihistamines and cortisone reduce the inflammation of air passages and improve the patient’s ability to breath. Medical personnel might also use a beta agonist such as albuterol to relieve breathing problems or steroid medications to treat or avoid prolonged symptoms of anaphylaxis.
When anyone in the midst of an allergic reaction shows signs of shock, it’s important to call 911 or otherwise secure emergency medical assistance right away. Someone should check the individual’s pulse and breathing and administer cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if necessary. If the patient is carrying emergency allergy medications such as an epinephrine auto-injector or antihistamines, administer them immediately, provided you know how to do so correctly.
It’s also important for individuals who have allergies to specific drugs or other substances to wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace to show what the conditions are. They should also keep on hand a well-stocked emergency kit and an adequate supply of any prescribed medications, including any auto-injectors prescribed by the doctor.
For patients allergic to insect stings, common sense dictates behavior to avoid exposure to them whenever possible. Many stings can be prevented by wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants and closed-toed shoes or boots instead of sandals.