Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction, caused when an over-release of “toxin-fighting” chemicals puts your body into shock. It may be triggered by insect stings, medications, or food.  What makes it so dangerous is that you may not be aware you are that allergic to something until anaphylaxis occurs. Usually it comes on suddenly, within 20-40 minutes of exposure and requires immediate emergency care. Occasionally the reaction can set in over several hours.

If you have a history of anaphylaxis or have a potential hereditary predisposition to it, an allergist can conduct diagnostic tests, educate you on awareness, and ensure you have emergency medical supplies, such as an EpiPen.

What are the symptoms?

Coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing; hives, rash, redness, itchiness, warm skin; itchy, watery, red eyes; nasal congestion; swelling and itching of the mouth, tongue, and throat; difficulty speaking and swallowing; nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps; drop in blood pressure, paleness; chest pain or tightness; dizziness, headache, lightheadedness; difficulty finding a pulse; loss of consciousness.

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If you or someone around you has these symptoms, call 911, and get that person to a hospital immediately.

What causes it?

Extreme allergies to a stimulus.  Some common examples are stings from bees or fire ants, and other insects; Food, such as nuts, shellfish, or preservatives; Medications such as antibiotics, aspirin, or over the counter pain medications; Latex.

How is it treated?

A drug called epinephrine can reverse anaphylaxis. Patients who have experienced anaphylactic reactions may carry an EpiPen, which allows them to inject themselves with this drug in the case of an emergency. However, even a halted anaphylactic reaction requires a quick follow up with a physician.

Can it be prevented?

If you have a history of allergies or asthma, you’re at a greater risk for anaphylaxis. Our allergists can administer skin pricks and other tests to help you discover your allergens. Avoidance of allergens is the best treatment, but sometimes, in the case of allergens like dust or pollen, this isn’t always possible. You may need daily desensitization therapy, such as oral or injected allergy meds.

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