Anaphylaxis is a series of rapid and severe allergic reactions that affect many parts of the body. If a person has a very severe reaction, it can kill them.
In North America about 4% of people are at risk of having an anaphylactic reaction. This means about 1.3 million Canadian are affected.
The most common foods that can cause an attack include nuts, certain fruits, fish and some spices. Medications are another common cause. Some people are allergic to penicillin, aspirin, ibuprofen, narcotic painkillers and a few other drugs. A person may have an intolerance to a particular drug (it might give them a stomach ache or a small rash) yet they may not actually be allergic to it. Bee or wasp stings can trigger an attack in some people. Exercise is another possible cause. Some people are very allergic to latex, like the latex used in medical gloves.
There are many cases of anaphylaxis where the doctor cannot determine the cause.
Anaphylaxis is life threatening and can occur any time. Risks include a history of any type of allergic reaction. A person may have had a mild allergic reaction in the past, but should always be on guard for the possibility of a major reaction from the same substance and avoid it always to be on the safe side.
Symptoms develop very quickly. Often within seconds or minutes after exposure to the allergen. They may include one or more of the following:
People with asthma, eczema, or hay fever are slightly more likely to have an anaphylactic reaction than people who do not have these conditions. Even still, anyone can have an anaphylactic reaction, but usually one would have a history of some type of allergic reaction with a particular substance in the past.
Act quickly if someone experiences the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment in an emergency department of a hospital, where the person can be watched closely and life-saving treatment can be given. If swelling develops rapidly, particularly involving the mouth or throat, and you have trouble breathing or feel dizzy, light-headed, or faint, call 911 for ambulance transport to the hospital. Do not attempt to treat severe reactions or to “wait it out” at home. Go immediately to the nearest emergency department or call an ambulance. While waiting for the ambulance, try to stay calm.
You will usually be observed for at least six hours after the beginning of the reaction. Occasionally, a reaction will seem to get better and then recur, and even worsen, in a few hours. Sometimes the severity of the reaction will require admission to the hospital.
Upon leaving the hospital emergency department, you should immediately obtain the medication prescribed for you. You should carry these at all times to prevent another reaction or lessen its severity.
Strictly avoid contact with the substance that was the trigger. Always read food labels carefully if you have had a reaction with a certain food product. Be aware of the ingredients that may be a trigger. Always tell your pharmacist and doctor what you are allergic to. Wear an allergy bracelet or necklace. People who are likely to be re-exposed to (or are unable to avoid) the substance that triggered a severe anaphylactic reaction in the past should see an allergist for desensitization. Skin testing may be required to help identify the allergen.