Allergies

Anaphylaxis: Symptoms and Causes of Anaphylactic Shock

  • What Is Anaphylaxis?

    Anaphylaxis can also be called anaphylactic shock. It is an allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. In most cases, anaphylaxis will mean you need to take a trip to the emergency room.

    Click through the slideshow to find out about the causes of anaphylaxis. You'll also learn how to spot signs of anaphylactic shock and tips on how to treat and manage anaphylaxis.

  • What Are the Causes of Anaphylaxis?

    If you’ve already had an allergic reaction, you’re at risk of anaphylaxis. But not all allergic reactions will lead to anaphylaxis.

    Allergic reactions that might put you at risk are:

    • food allergies to milk, shellfish, soy, egg, peanut, and tree nuts
    • allergies to medicines like penicillin
    • insect bite or sting allergies 

    Less common causes of a reaction are:

    • a latex allergy
    • prior anaphylactic shock
    • exercise

  • What Are the Symptoms of Anaphylaxis?

    Anaphylaxis can have a lot of symptoms. Many happen with all allergic reactions. An anaphylactic reaction is different, though. That's because a number of symptoms can appear all at once.

    Symptoms may include:

    • itchy skin or hives
    • a runny nose or sneezing
    • an itchy mouth, throat, trouble swallowing, or swollen lips and tongue
    • swollen limbs
    • coughing
    • cramps or diarrhea
    • vomiting

  • Serious Anaphylaxis Symptoms

    Some symptoms of anaphylaxis need emergency treatment, including:

    • shortness of breath or a closed airway
    • chest pains or tightness in the chest
    • low blood pressure
    • a weak and rapid pulse
    • dizziness or passing out
    • confusion

    Symptoms of anaphylactic shock can worsen very quickly. Treatment is needed within 30 to 60 minutes because symptoms sometimes can be fatal. 

  • More on Anaphylaxis: Symptoms and Timing

    Anaphylaxis symptoms tend to have a pattern. For example:

    • Symptoms show up minutes after you touch or eat the thing you are allergic to.
    • A number of symptoms appear at the same time. For example, a rash, swelling, and vomiting.
    • The first set of symptoms goes away, but then comes back eight hours to 72 hours later.
    • A single reaction continues for many hours.

  • Think It's Anaphylaxis? Seek Help!

    If you think you or someone you know is having an anaphylactic reaction, seek emergency medical attention.

    Make sure the person is comfortable. Raise their legs to help blood flow. If the person stops breathing, give CPR and other first aid until help arrives.

    Many people with severe allergies have been given an epinephrine auto-injector. This can help treat the symptoms of a reaction.

  • Using an Auto-injector to Treat Anaphylaxis

    Epinephrine (or adrenaline) is often used to treat anaphylaxis. It’s given through an auto-injector, which contains a needle that can give one dose of adrenaline at a time. The site for the injection is usually the outer thigh muscle.

    After the injection, the person's symptoms should improve quickly. If not, a second injection may be needed. You will still need to see a doctor for further treatment.

  • Preventing Anaphylaxis: Avoiding Allergy Triggers

    The best way of stopping anaphylaxis is to avoid allergy triggers: foods or other things you’re allergic to. Your doctor can help you figure out your allergy triggers with simple tests such as a skin prick test or a blood test.

    A doctor can then give you advice for cutting out your allergy triggers. This will all help you avoid an allergic reaction and anaphylaxis.

  • Get Proactive With an Anaphylaxis Action Plan

    Make an anaphylaxis action plan. That is, give people in your life a guide on what to do if you suffer an anaphylactic shock. Your action plan should contain information on the symptoms of anaphylaxis and provide advice for what to do in case of emergency.

    The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) has developed a template you can use to write down details about your allergy, medication, emergency contact numbers, and what steps to take in case of anaphylaxis.

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