Anaphylaxis (Anaphylactic Reaction)
Anaphylaxis is a severe, sometimes life-threatening, allergic reaction.
Substances that cause anaphylaxis are often called allergens or triggers. Common triggers include:
Medications (eg, antibiotics, seizure medications, muscle relaxants) Insect stings or bites Vaccines Foods and food additives, especially eggs, peanuts, seafood, cow's milk, soy, and tree nuts Blood products Latex products (eg, gloves, medical tubing, condoms) Allergic Reaction to Medication (Hives)
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Some triggers, like dyes used in x-ray procedures, can cause a reaction similar to anaphylaxis.
These factors increase your chance of developing anaphylaxis. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
Previous mild allergic reaction to the substances listed above
Children who have
certain conditions, such as
and urogenital defects (due to the heavy exposure to latex they have during multiple surgeries)
The symptoms of anaphylaxis usually occur within minutes after exposure to an allergen, but can occur hours later. Symptoms may be mild or very severe, including death. They include:
Swelling, redness, stinging or burning, especially on the face, mouth, eyes, or hands Lightheadedness, caused by a drop in blood pressure Obstruction of the nose, mouth, and throat Severe respiratory distress Chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing
Nausea, vomiting, cramping,
Low blood pressure,
( occurs in 30% of cases)
Diagnosis is based on the symptoms. The doctor will suspect anaphylaxis if you have symptoms and have been exposed to a likely allergen.
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical treatment, including:
Epinephrine (adrenaline) injection—makes blood vessels constrict, relaxes the airway, stops itching and hives, and relieves gastrointestinal cramping Other medications—corticosteroids and/or antihistamines may be given after the epinephrine to decrease inflammation and improve breathing. Bronchodilators—to improve breathing Intravenous fluids Oxygen Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
(CPR)—may be necessary in severe cases when anaphylaxis leads to cardiovascular collapse. Severe anaphylaxis may require
until swelling is brought under control.
If you are diagnosed with anaphylaxis, follow your doctor's
Avoiding substances that trigger anaphylaxis is the best prevention. In addition:
Allergy shots can decrease the risk of anaphylaxis and reduce the severity of the reactions to certain triggers. Wear a medical alert jewelry that lists your allergies. Tell your doctor or dentist about your allergies before taking any medication. When possible, ask that medications be taken as a pill. Allergic reactions can be more severe with injected medications. Keep self-injectable epinephrine (eg, Epi-Pen, Twin-ject) with you at home, work, in the car, and when you travel. Be sure family and friends know how to use the kit too. Make sure the school nurse knows about any allergies your child has. If allergic to insect stings, wear protective clothing when outside. Always remain in the doctor's or dentist's office 30 minutes after receiving an injection. Report any symptoms right away.
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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at:
Accessed March 25, 2007.
Pumphrey, R. Anaphylaxis: can we tell who is at risk of a fatal reaction?.
Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol
Sampson, HA, Munoz-Furlong, A, Campbell, RL, et al. Second symposium on the definition and management of anaphylaxis: summary report—Second National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease/Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network symposium.
J Allergy Clin Immunol
Winbery SL, Lieberman PL. Anaphylaxis.
Immunol Allergy Clin North Am
Last reviewed February 2009 by
Julie D.K. McNairn, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a
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