Anaphylaxis: Causes, Symtoms and Treatment


Anaphylaxis, also known as an acute systemic hypersensitivity reaction, is a condition where a person severely reacts to allergies either in food, insect stings, medication or seasonal allergies, leading to a severe drop in blood pressure, cardiac arrest, and if not treated immediately, death. It has existed for thousands of years, but was named and recognized by researchers Richet and Porter. Anaphylaxis kills less than 1,000 people each year. 17 out of every 100 people are considered “at risk” for Anaphylaxis. It is not very frequent.

Anaphylaxis is caused by a severe reaction to an allergen. During anaphylaxis, the allergen triggers the release of histamines, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes from Mast Cells, cells that contain those chemicals. The chemicals cause a drop in blood pressure. Also, the chemicals cause the body’s airways to swell, and the smooth muscle in your blood vessels to dilate. This leads to difficulty breathing.

Getting regular allergy checkups and allergy shots can prevent anaphylaxis. Like a vaccine, allergy shots contain a small amount of the allergen, enough where the body’s antibodies can fight it off. This makes the body more immune to the allergy.

A person with anaphylaxis will have to change many things with their lifestyle. One is that they will need to see the ingredients of the food they eat, before they eat it, if anaphylaxis is caused by a food allergy. Also, the person will need to see a doctor and an allergist for checkups more often than usual. A person with anaphylaxis also will need to keep track of the pollen count outside, if the person’s anaphylaxis is triggered by seasonal allergies. Anaphylaxis patients need to change their lifestyles a lot when they are diagnosed with the disease.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include a flushed appearance, diarrhea, hives, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, swelling of the lips, face, neck and throat, vomiting, and itching. If you experience, or you see someone experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

If not treated within a few minutes, a patient experiencing anaphylaxis may die. Anaphylaxis patients will need to be transported to the hospital by ambulance, but if the person is experiencing a severe case of anaphylaxis, or in anaphylactic shock, the person may need to be transported by a medical helicopter to the hospital.

At the hospital, the patient will receive a drug called Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. The epinephrine causes the body’s processes to stimulate, opens the body’s airways, and helps the body fight off histamine and the other chemicals that cause Anaphylaxis.

Some people may carry a tool called and Epi-Pen, which is a preloaded syringe full of epinephrine. The syringe can be used by trained people, and is very easy to use. To use the Epi-Pen, a user must pull off the gray cap on the top of the syringe, and strike the person in the fatty area of their leg with the bottom. The spring-loaded needle of the syringe then comes out of the bottom of the Epi-Pen, injecting epinephrine into the person’s body.

In America, 16.8% are “at-risk”, or 50,400,000 people. The total U.S population is approximately 300,000,000.