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Break It Down: Anaphylaxis (Video Transcript)

Anaphylaxis, which is sometimes called anaphylactic shock, is a severe allergic reaction. The reaction can be to certain foods like nuts, insect stings, medications, or anything to which a person is severely allergic. Allergic reactions present with a variety of symptoms, such as hives, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and rapid swelling of the tongue and lips.

If not treated immediately, anaphylaxis can be deadly.


What happens is that your immune system mistakes a normally harmless substance, such as peanuts, for a dangerous foreign invader and mounts a full-scale immunologic response, which creates a host of complications. For instance, fluid can accumulate in your lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Blood vessels open wider, causing a drop in blood pressure. If this progresses, a person can go into shock.

Who is at Risk?

Most people with a severe allergy are diagnosed as children, usually after exposure to a food allergen. You should know that it’s possible to be severely allergic to something and not realize it until you suffer a reaction.

Signs and Symptoms

It’s critical to understand the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, so you can react quickly in the event of an emergency. The most common signs of a severe anaphylactic reaction include: trouble breathing, coughing wheezing, facial swelling, swelling in the mouth and throat, tchy skin, including hives, red skin rash, nausea, weakness or dizziness, low blood pressure, rapid or irregular heart rate, abdominal pain, anxiety, confusion and slurred speech

Treatment and Prevention

We are all exposed to foods, medications, plants, animals, cosmetics, and chemicals every day about which we are unaware, so allergic reactions will continue to happen and we need to be ready to treat them. The single most powerful therapy we have for treating anaphylactic shock is epinephrine. When it’s administered in a therapeutic dose, it usually quickly alleviates the most severe symptoms of anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is available in easy-to-use emergency auto-injectors.

If you or a loved one has been prescribed an epinephrine injector, there are a number of things you should be aware of:

  1. Instruct your family, close friends, your child’s teacher, and other people who might need to use the device on how to operate the emergency epinephrine injector.
  2. Emergency epinephrine is not a replacement for a doctor or an emergency department. If someone is suffering an anaphylactic reaction, they should immediately be given the shot of epinephrine and then be brought to the emergency department as quickly as possible for a full evaluation.
  3. Be prepared to need to administer a second injection. Even though the first injection may be effective in stopping the allergic response, it also may have only a limited period of effectiveness. Therefore, you many need to administer a second injection.
  4. Always check the expiration date on each epinephrine injector. Be certain that you’re carrying up-to-date medications.