Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction which occurs within seconds or minutes of exposure to allergens such as peanuts, some medications, insect venom and latex. It is potentially life-threatening as the flood of chemicals released by the immune system leads to shock, thereby dropping the blood pressure, and causing sudden narrowing of the airways and blocking the normal breathing process.
The signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis may either occur within minutes of exposure to an allergen or half-hour or even longer.
When exposed, the following symptoms are experienced:
- dizziness or fainting
- pulse becomes weak and rapid
- a feeling of warmth
- a feeling of having a lump in your throat
- constriction of the airways coupled with a swollen tongue or throat which may lead to difficulty in breathing and wheezing
- skin reactions manifested through itching and pale skin
If anaphylaxis is left untreated, it may lead to unconsciousness of the victim or even eventual death.
Bodies produce antibodies that defend individuals against presence of harmful foreign bodies such as bacteria and viruses. However, some people's immune systems overreact to certain substances setting off a chain of chemical reactions which lead to allergic symptoms. This severe allergic reaction is what results into anaphylaxis although allergy symptoms are not always life threatening.
Other medications trigger anaphylaxis, certain foods like peanuts, wheat, fish, shellfish, milk and eggs, bee stings and wasps are common causes too.
Not many known risk factors for anaphylaxis exist. Nonetheless, things that may increase the risk of one experiencing anaphylaxis include but are not limited to personal history of anaphylaxis where the future reactions may become more severe than the first reaction; allergies or asthma and having a family history.
This reaction may be life threatening when a severe attack occurs. This may stop heartbeat or breathing. When such a scenario arises, the victim would require other emergency treatments in order to survive.
One should act fast in case he notices an individual with signs of shock due to anaphylaxis such as weak and rapid pulse, pale, cool and clammy skin, confusion and loss of consciousness. Call emergency medical help, get the patient in a comfortable position, elevate his or her legs, and check pulse and airway. In case the victim stops breathing or the heart stops during an anaphylactic attack, emergency services should perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
In case an anaphylactic reaction is due to insect stings, it is important to get a series of allergy shots to reduce the body's allergic response and prevent future allergic reaction. Always avoid known allergy triggers and make sure you carry self-administered epinephrine at all times. If you come in contact with an allergen, either intentionally (from the consumption of foods that are allergic too without knowing about it, such as peanuts) or unintentionally (when you know you have a food allergy but are unaware that a certain product contains it remember that most candy bars need to be treated with caution. Always check the ingredients as most contains nuts, especially peanuts), make sure you administer epinephrine ASAP.
Avoid substances that are known to cause the severe reaction, wear medical alert bracelet for indication, and ensure that you alert the general practitioner about the drug allergies before the commencement of a medical treatment, carefully read the labels of food in case of specific food allergies and exercise caution when near stinging insects. This can be done by wearing long-sleeved shirts and avoiding sandals or walking barefoot in the grass. In addition, one ought to keep a correctly stocked emergency kit containing medications at all times.