Anaphylaxis (an-a-fi-LAK-sis) is an extreme allergic reaction in the human body. Sometimes referred to as anaphylactic shock, this life threatening condition is most often a reaction to allergens including foods, insect stings, medications and latex. Anaphylaxis requires emergency medical attention.
During an average allergic reaction the immune system responds to the presence of an allergen by releasing chemicals that attack the allergen like a virus or other threatening foreign substance. The response typically results in symptoms like hives or sneezing. When anaphylaxis strikes, the person’s body goes into shock, with blood pressure dropping and airways narrowing. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, skin rashes, and a rapid but weak pulse.
Immediate emergency medical attention is required to treat anaphylaxis. Many patients with known, serious allergies carry an epinephrine pen in case of an emergency. An epipen provides a shot of adrenaline to the body to reduce the severe allergic response. When a person goes into anaphylactic shock, it is essential to call emergency services and administer the epinephrine shot, if possible. Make sure to elevate the person’s legs, make sure they are breathing, and comfortable. Anaphylaxis can be fatal if not treated. Once at the hospital, the patient may be treated with oxygen to make up for constricted breathing, antihistamines and cortisone which can reduce inflammation, or drugs like albuterol to relieve constricted breathing.
Yes, those with known allergies, asthma or a family history of anaphylactic shock have a higher risk of this serious allergic response. Also, anyone who has experienced anaphylaxis once, has a higher likelihood of another attack. Those at higher risk can protect themselves by working with an allergist or immunologist to carefully manage any allergies. When allergies are correctly diagnosed, they can be managed and treated, reducing the risk of anaphylaxis. It is also essential for those at higher risk to be prepared and have an epinephrine auto injector or epipen with them at all times.