Anaphylaxis, or an allergic reaction, is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death. Symptoms usually appear within minutes to a few hours after eating a food, swallowing medication, or being stung by an insect. Sometimes symptoms go away, and then return a few hours later, so it is important to get to a hospital (call 911) or seek medical care as soon as an anaphylactic reaction begins and to remain under medical observation for as long as the reaction and symptoms continue.
Anaphylaxis is triggered when the immune system overreacts to a usually harmless substance causing mild to severe symptoms that affect various parts of the body. These reactions can occur in response to almost any foreign substance. Common triggers include venom from insect bites or stings, foods, and medication. Other substances that can cause anaphylaxis include food additives, hormonal changes, latex, and exercise. These triggers are less common.
Certain people are at increased risk of anaphylaxis. People that have allergies, asthma, and a family history of anaphylaxis, are all at increased risk. Additionally, a person who has had a previous episode of anaphylaxis is at increased risk.
After a person is exposed to a substance, symptoms can begin within 5 to 30 minutes after coming into contact with that allergen. However, this is not always the case and reactions have been known to develop as late as 24 hours after the exposure. Twenty percent of people have a second reaction several hours after the first reaction resolves. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
The most dangerous symptoms are low blood pressure, breathing difficulty, and loss of consciousness, all of which can be fatal.
There is not one specific test that is used to diagnose anaphylaxis. Our allergist will take your medical history and conduct other tests, if needed, to determine the exact cause of your reaction. Avoiding the allergen(s) is the main way to remain safe but requires a great deal of education. Our allergist is an expert on the investigation, diagnosis, and treatment of this life-threatening condition and will work with you to develop a specific treatment plan.
The treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine. All patients at risk for anaphylaxis should carry auto-injectable epinephrine. Patients should also have an anaphylaxis action plan on file at work or school so that others can recognize symptoms and provide treatment if necessary. Medical alert bracelets or jewelry are also recommended to identify these triggers. The best way to prevent future attacks is to avoid allergens that cause allergic reactions.