Healthy Living

What is Anaphylaxis?

What is Anaphylaxis?

Key Takeaways

Anaphylaxis refers to a severe allergic response, which can become life threatening if not treated immediately. It is often characterized by swelling, sudden lowering of blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and dilation of blood vessels. In some severe cases, the person may go into a state of shock. It is also associated with some mild symptoms that  can be treated successfully.

Anaphylaxis is caused by an exaggerated response of the immune system to an allergen. People who had mild anaphylactic symptoms for any of the allergen in the past have a high risk of developing severe reactions to the allergen at a later stage.

Some of the most common triggers of anaphylactic reactions include:

  • Medications, like penicillin
  • Certain foods, like peanuts, shell fish, milk, wheat, and eggs
  • Venom
  • Insect stings from hornets, wasps, and bees

Anaphylaxis may also be caused by some less common triggers, like latex, anesthesia medication, and exercise. Mild physical activity or aerobic exercises, like jogging, may trigger the exaggerated response in some people. If the actual cause of the allergic reaction is not known, a doctor may run diagnostic tests to find the allergen that triggers the exaggerated response. Anaphylaxis for which the trigger is not identified is known as idiopathic anaphylaxis. The risk of anaphylaxis increases with family history. Chances of getting anaphylactic reactions are more in people who have asthma and allergies.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis can be noticed within a few minutes of exposure to the allergen. In some rare cases, the symptoms may start after an hour or so.

Some of the most common symptoms of this reaction include:

  • Skin reactions like hives and intense itching
  • Swelling of the throat and lips
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Redness and warmth of the skin
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Sudden lowering of blood pressure
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Shock
  • Dizziness
  • Weak and rapid pulse

Any severe allergic reaction should be brought to the attention of a doctor. Epinephrine injections can be given right away to reduce the symptoms. An affected individual should then be given medical attention to ensure that the symptoms do not recur. If breathing stops, emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation may be needed. Oxygen is used in case of restricted breathing. Inflammation of the airways is treated with antihistamines and cortisone, both given intravenously. Difficulty breathing can be controlled by beta-agonists as well.

For long-term treatment, immunotherapy may be opted for, to reduce the allergic response of the body and to prevent future attacks.