Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur rapidly after exposure to an allergen. It is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention and treatment. Anaphylaxis can affect various systems in the body and can lead to a sudden and severe reaction.
Key features of anaphylaxis include:
- Rapid Onset: Anaphylaxis often occurs within minutes to hours after exposure to an allergen, although it can sometimes be delayed.
- Multiple Organ Systems: Anaphylaxis can affect multiple organ systems simultaneously. Common symptoms and signs may include:
- Skin: Hives (urticaria), itching, flushing, and swelling (especially of the face, lips, tongue, and throat).
- Respiratory: Difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath.
- Cardiovascular: Rapid or weak pulse, low blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, or cardiac arrest.
- Gastrointestinal: Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
- Neurological: Confusion, altered consciousness, or loss of consciousness.
- Triggers: Anaphylaxis is typically triggered by allergens, which can be food allergens (e.g., nuts, shellfish), insect stings or bites (e.g., bee stings), medications (e.g., penicillin), or other substances (e.g., latex).
- Systemic Response: Anaphylaxis involves a systemic (whole-body) immune response. The immune system releases chemicals, such as histamine, which can cause widespread inflammation and rapid changes in blood pressure and heart rate.
- Severity: Anaphylaxis can vary in severity, from mild to severe. Severe anaphylaxis can progress rapidly and lead to anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening condition characterized by extremely low blood pressure, inadequate blood flow to vital organs, and organ dysfunction.
- Treatment: The primary treatment for anaphylaxis is the prompt administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) via an auto-injector (e.g., EpiPen). Epinephrine helps counteract the allergic reaction by narrowing blood vessels, relaxing the airways, and increasing blood pressure. Other treatments may include antihistamines and corticosteroids, as well as supportive measures such as oxygen and intravenous fluids.
- Follow-up Care: After an episode of anaphylaxis, individuals should seek medical attention and receive follow-up care to address any lingering symptoms and to determine the cause of the reaction. An allergist may be consulted to identify specific triggers through allergy testing.
People with known allergies that can lead to anaphylaxis should carry an epinephrine auto-injector with them at all times and be educated on how to use it. They should also wear medical alert identification, such as a bracelet or necklace, to inform healthcare providers of their allergy.
Prompt recognition and immediate treatment of anaphylaxis are critical for a positive outcome. If you suspect someone is experiencing anaphylaxis or if you experience symptoms yourself, call 911 or seek emergency medical assistance immediately.