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What is an Anaphylactic Reaction?

What is an Anaphylactic Reaction?

An anaphylactic reaction can occur when a person is exposed to a substance that triggers an allergic response. Triggers can vary between food, medication, insect bite, or other external factors. The reaction may cause the immune system to overreact and release chemicals across the body which can lead to anaphylactic shock. In the United States, hundreds of people die each year from anaphylactic reaction symptoms such as sudden low blood pressure and trouble breathing. Therefore, it is a medical emergency that requires immediate intervention when it occurs. Those with a history of anaphylaxis should always have medication such as epinephrine readily available for prompt treatment.

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If you or someone around you is having a severe allergic reaction, call emergency services right away and administer treatment medication if available. Remain calm and sit or lie down depending on discomfort and symptoms. Lay on a side and raise legs if vomiting occurs in order to keep airway clear. Take other prescribed medicine such as an inhaler or another injection of epinephrine if symptoms do not improve. Even if symptoms improve, go to the hospital anyway because untreated anaphylaxis can allow symptoms to recur.

What Can Cause an Anaphylactic Reaction?

There are many common substances that would cause an anaphylactic reaction. There are also things you would not expect to cause an allergic reaction such as a blood transfusion or the dye used for radiology tests. But for most people, they learn at a young age if they suffer from mild to severe allergic reactions to things like peanuts or seafood. The following foods are the most common one’s people are allergic to which can cause anaphylactic shock.

  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts (Almonds, Walnuts, Cashews, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Pistachios, Pine nuts)
  • Certain fruits such as bananas, kiwis, pears, pineapples, grapes, and papayas
  • Sesame
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

Food additives, such as sulfites can also cause an allergic reaction which can lead to anaphylactic shock if taken in a big enough quantity depending on a person’s sensitivity. Medications like penicillin, insulin, aspirin and ibuprofen as well as material like latex are also common allergens which can trigger anaphylaxis. Another common way an anaphylactic reaction can occur is through the venom of insect stings from bees, wasps, hornets or fire ants. People with certain conditions such as asthma or eczema are more likely to have an anaphylactic reaction than people without these illnesses. It is entirely possible that the cause of anaphylactic reaction can be unknown due to a delayed allergic reaction.

Anaphylactic Reaction or Shock: Signs and Symptoms

The most common and life-threatening anaphylactic symptoms are difficulty breathing due to swelling of the airway and going unconscious due to low blood pressure. Severe symptoms include swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat, trouble breathing, dizziness, fainting, and anxiety. Less severe anaphylactic reactions include hives, coughing, congestion, feeling warm or tingling, diarrhea, and nausea. However, even if you only experience mild symptoms, subsequent reaction to allergens may be more severe and cause anaphylactic shock. Therefore, those more susceptible to allergic reactions should always care appropriate treatment medication and visit an emergency center as soon as possible.

Anaphylactic Shock Treatment

When anaphylactic shock occurs, your main priority is to relax and stabilize your breathing. Taking an antihistamine can help relieve some symptoms while you wait for proper treatment. If you have asthma and use an inhaler regularly, taking a dose from a rescue inhaler during an anaphylactic reaction can help ease breathing trouble. It is recommended to take a shot of epinephrine as soon as possible. Only administer epinephrine if prescribed by your doctor and follow the instructions on the auto-injector when in use.

Anaphylaxis: Carrying EpiPen for Emergency

When using an EpiPen brand epinephrine auto-injector, please read the instructions on the label and use the following guidelines.

  1. Remove auto-injector cap
  2. Grip the injector with the pointy tip facing down
  3. Inject in the middle of your outer thigh in your upper leg area, it can pierce through clothing if necessary
  4. Press and hold down for 2-3 seconds
  5. Remove and return auto-injector to its case
  6. If symptoms do not improve after at least 5 minutes, consider using another dose
  7. Go to emergency medical services right away for further treatment

If you know what caused the anaphylactic reaction, remove it immediately. Once the initial reaction has calmed down, a doctor should monitor your condition because anaphylaxis can reoccur hours or days later. After a full examination, your doctor may prescribe additional medicine like antihistamines or steroids to help with breathing.

Preventing another anaphylactic reaction should be your next priority, especially if you do not know what caused your last reaction. Make an appointment with an allergy specialist to help identify any existing or new allergies you may have.

To learn more about what is an anaphylactic reaction, visit our blog to discover helpful health advice and treatment suggestions.

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IMPORTANT NOTE: The above information is intended to increase awareness of health information and does not suggest treatment or diagnosis. This information is not a substitute for individual medical attention and should not be construed to indicate that use of the drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. See your health care professional for medical advice and treatment.


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