In most cases, people with allergies develop mild to moderate symptoms, such as watery eyes, a runny nose or a rash. But sometimes, exposure to an allergen can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. This severe reaction happens when an over-release of chemicals puts the person into shock. Allergies to food, insect stings, medications and latex are most frequently associated with anaphylaxis.
A second anaphylactic reaction, known as a biphasic reaction, can occur as long as 12 hours after the initial reaction.
Call 999 for an ambulance and get to the nearest hospital at the first sign of anaphylaxis, even if you have already administered epinephrine, the drug used to treat severe allergic reactions. Just because an allergic person has never had an anaphylactic reaction in the past to an offending allergen, doesn’t mean that one won’t occur in the future. If you have had an anaphylactic reaction in the past, you are at risk of future reactions.
Anaphylaxis symptoms occur suddenly and can progress quickly. The early symptoms may be mild, such as a runny nose, a skin rash or a “strange feeling.” These symptoms can quickly lead to more serious problems, including:
Hives or swelling
Tightness of the throat
Low blood pressure
Rapid heart beat
Feeling of doom
People who have had a severe allergic reaction are at risk for future reactions. Even if your first reaction is mild, future reactions might be more severe. That’s why it’s important to carry self-injectable epinephrine if you are at risk, and 911 should be dialed in the event of a very serious reaction.
Understanding anaphylaxis and the things that can trigger this severe allergic reaction will help you manage your condition.
If you have a history of allergies and/or asthma and have previously had a severe reaction, you are at greater risk for anaphylaxis.
Allergists have the training and expertise to review your history of allergic reactions, conduct diagnostic tests (such as skin-prick tests, blood tests and oral food challenges) to determine your triggers, review treatment options and teach avoidance techniques. Consultation with an allergist is recommended if:
You’re unsure whether you have had an anaphylactic reaction.
Your symptoms are recurring or are difficult to control.
You’re having trouble managing your condition.
More tests are needed to determine the cause of your reactions.
Desensitization or immunotherapy could be helpful in your case.
Daily medication is needed.
You need intensive education on avoidance and anaphylaxis management.
Other medical conditions complicate your treatment.