Anaphylaxis (an-a-fi-LAK-sis) is a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction. The most common anaphylactic reactions are to foods, insect stings, medications and latex.
If you are allergic to a substance, your immune system overreacts to this allergen by releasing chemicals that cause allergy symptoms. Typically, these bothersome symptoms occur in one location of the body. However, some people are susceptible to a much more serious anaphylactic reaction. This reaction typically affects more than one part of the body at the same time.
Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical treatment, including a prompt injection of epinephrine and a trip to a hospital emergency room. If it isn’t treated properly, anaphylaxis can be fatal.
Certain people are more at risk of anaphylaxis. If you have allergies or asthma and have a family history of anaphylaxis, your risk is higher. And, if you’ve experienced anaphylaxis your risk of having another anaphylactic reaction is increased.
Accurate diagnosis and successful management of allergies is essential. An allergist / immunologist, often referred to as an allergist, has specialized training and experience to diagnose the problem and help you develop a plan to protect you in the future.
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Anaphylaxis Symptoms & Diagnosis
Symptoms of anaphylaxis typically start within 5 to 30 minutes of coming into contact with the allergen to which you are allergic. In some cases it may take more than an hour for you to notice anaphylactic symptoms.
Warning signs typically affect more than one part of the body and may include:
• Red rash, with hives/welts, that is usually itchy (It is possible to have a severe allergic reaction without skin symptoms.)
• Swollen throat or swollen areas of the body (It is possible to have a severe allergic reaction without skin symptoms.)
• Passing out
• Chest tightness
• Trouble breathing, cough
• Hoarse voice
• Trouble swallowing
• Stomach cramping
• Pale or red color to the face and body
• Feeling of impending doom
To diagnose your risk of anaphylaxis or to determine whether previous symptoms were anaphylaxis-related, your allergist / immunologist will conduct a thorough investigation of all potential causes. Your allergist will ask for specific details regarding all past allergic reactions.
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Anaphylaxis Treatment & Management
The best ways to manage your condition are:
• Avoid allergens that trigger your allergic reactions
• Be prepared for an emergency
If you are at risk of anaphylaxis, carry epinephrine autoinjectors (adrenaline). They contain a prescribed single dose of medication that is injected into the thigh during an anaphylactic emergency.
Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about how to use the epinephrine autoinjector. It is important for you, family members and others in close contact with you or your child to know how to use the epinephrine autoinjector.
Complete an Anaphylaxis Action Plan and keep on file at work, school, camp or other places where others may need to recognize your symptoms and provide treatment.
If you think you are having an anaphylactic reaction, use your epinephrine autoinjector and call 911 immediately so you can be transported to the nearest emergency department for evaluation, monitoring and any further treatement by healthcare professionals. Your life depends on this. Don’t take an antihistamine or wait to see if symptoms get better.