April 7, 2022
What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Anaphylaxis?
It's estimated that 1 in 20 people in the U.S. experience an anaphylactic allergic reaction. In this article, we cover what anaphylaxis is, what triggers it, and prevention methods. Knowing the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis can help you be more prepared in an emergency situation.
What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that affects the entire body. Anaphylaxis can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to something you're allergic to, such as bee stings or peanuts.
Anaphylaxis is often used with the term "anaphylactic shock." When anaphylactic shock occurs, your blood pressure decreases so quickly that your cells and organs lose function. This shock is caused by anaphylaxis.
This process occurs in the immune system, where antibodies that defend against foreign substances are produced. This is typically good when a foreign substance is harmful, such as certain bacteria or viruses. But some people's immune systems overreact to substances that don't usually cause an allergic reaction.
Dr. Haley Overstreet explains the causes and treatment of anaphylaxis:
How quickly does Anaphylaxis occur?
Because anaphylaxis is such a rapid reaction, it can begin in seconds. Typically, it reaches peak severe symptoms, between 3 and 30 minutes. It’s less common for a delayed reaction to take place.
What are common triggers of Anaphylaxis?
While any substance can be an allergen, the more common allergens that cause anaphylaxis are:
- Food allergies: such as milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts including peanuts and walnuts, and certain fruits such as strawberries.
- Medicine: antibiotics (especially penicillin), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and muscle relaxants used during general anesthesia.
- Insect Bites and Stings: especially wasp and bee stings.
- Latex: For example, gloves and chewing gum. Most wards and clinics use non-latex gloves.
Sometimes, where a patient doesn't have a known allergy, there is no apparent cause for their anaphylaxis (known as 'idiopathic anaphylaxis'). It's crucial to get allergy tested and know what can trigger anaphylaxis.
What are the symptoms or reactions of anaphylaxis?
Knowing the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis are extremely important due to the quick reaction rate.
Symptoms can include:
- Skin reactions, such as hives, itching, and flushed or pale skin
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Constriction of the airways and a swollen tongue or throat, can cause wheezing and trouble breathing
- A weak and rapid pulse
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Dizziness or fainting
Symptoms can be ranked on a grading system, Grade 1 being the lowest (mild symptoms) to Grade 4 being the highest (severe symptoms).
- Grade 1: symptoms typically involve the skin and can include skin rash, itching, swelling of the skin, and hives.
- Grade 2: symptoms include the signs from Grade 1 while also including other symptoms. For example, you might experience a runny nose, hoarseness, and difficulty breathing. Cramping and vomiting, low blood pressure, fast pulse, and an irregular heartbeat may also occur.
- Grade 3: symptoms include diarrhea and bloating. Because your body cannot get enough blood to your organs, you could go into shock and lose consciousness. Your skin might take on a bluish tint, and breathing difficulties occur.
- Grade 4: symptoms can include all of those mentioned above and a respiratory arrest in which you stop breathing. You could also experience circulatory arrest, during which the blood stops circulating throughout your body.
How to treat anaphylaxis
Because anaphylaxis can become severe so quickly, it's vital to prepare an action plan.
If you've had allergic reactions to food or insect bites, your provider will prescribe an epinephrine (adrenaline) injection. These shots work quickly to reverse symptoms of anaphylaxis. If you experience an anaphylactic reaction, you inject yourself with the medication, usually in your thigh. If symptoms don't improve after five to 15 minutes, give yourself a second injection if you have one available. After injecting yourself, get medical help or call 911. After having an anaphylactic reaction, medical evaluation is necessary.
Emergency medical treatment could save the lives of people who have anaphylaxis but do not have access to an epinephrine auto-injector. Antihistamines, such as Benadryl, only provide minimal relief, so it's imperative to seek emergency medical treatment. It can be common for some people to experience a recurrence of symptoms within a few hours, so professional monitoring is often needed.
How to prevent anaphylaxis
The best way to prevent anaphylaxis is to avoid substances that cause this severe reaction.
- Create an action plan in case of any emergency.
- Be sure to alert all your providers to your medication reactions.
- If you're allergic to stinging insects, use caution around them. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants; don't walk barefoot on grass; don't wear bright colors; don't wear perfumes, colognes, or scented lotions; and don't drink from open soda cans outdoors. Stay calm when near a stinging insect. Move away slowly, and don't slap at the insect.
- If you have food allergies, carefully read the labels of all the foods you buy and eat to ensure what ingredients it contains. Even small amounts of food that you're allergic to can cause a severe reaction. When eating out, ask what ingredients it contains and how each dish is prepared.
- Get allergy tested. It’s best to know beforehand what potential allergies are so that way you can avoid anaphylaxis. If you would like to schedule an appointment to get tested, click here.
While anaphylaxis can be a scary situation, it doesn’t have to be! There are ways to help treat and prevent anaphylaxis. Getting allergy tested is the first step to help. At Aspire Allergy & Sinus we can help determine your allergies and create a treatment solution that works best for you! Come and see us and request an appointment today!