The All in One Guide to Anaphylactic Reactions


You have liked heard of the term “anaphylactic shock.” People go into one when they are suffering an allergic reaction, but not everyone will show the same severity. Anaphylactic reactions can be extremely dangerous and life threatening. Even when someone looks like they have recovered, medical attention will be required.

Understanding everything you can about anaphylactic reactions is essential, especially if you know someone with an allergy. You may be surprised to hear that the symptoms are not just difficulty breathing. Some of the seemingly smallest symptoms are those of anaphylactic shock. By understanding this, you can take steps to protect the health of people around you; getting treatment as soon as necessary.

Allergies Lead to Anaphylaxis

Anaphylactic reactions are also known as anaphylactic shock or anaphylaxis. They happen when someone suffers from an allergic reaction. The number of people suffering from allergies is growing considerably, and doctors are not entirely sure why. There are plenty of theories, but studies have not specifically confirmed all these theories in full.

More than 40% of children and 30% of adults suffer from some allergy. This can include asthma, which is the fifth most common chronic disease in the United States alone. Food allergies are on the rise, and on average 10,000 people are admitted to hospital because of them. While peanut allergies are extremely common, nuts, dairy, eggs, and gluten allergies are also some of the most common.

Your immune system can partially be blamed for the allergic reactions. The immune system steps in when there is a foreign and harmful substance in your body. Some food and particles that are not damaging can be viewed as bad. The immune system kicks up a notch, but cannot get rid of the substances. So, your immune system keeps trying until your body eventually (and naturally) gets rid of the substance.

Some reactions include hives, sneezing, itchy eyes and throat, and a running nose. You can also develop asthma attacks and breathing problems.

What may surprise you is that all the symptoms are those of anaphylactic shock. While many people assume it is just inflammation and difficult breathing, all the symptoms are signs. You may also experience inflammation in the face and tongue, diarrhea and abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and the feeling of anxiousness.

Some of the symptoms are easily overlooked. Who really thinks an itchy throat and runny nose are that bad for you? We get them with colds, so tend to ignore the feeling because of an allergic reaction. We may not even realize that they are symptoms of allergic reactions at first. Many of us live with these symptoms daily and just believe that’s the way life is. It is only when we get rid of the allergens or we’re diagnosed by a doctor that we realize there is a more serious problem at hand.

It also does not help that some people do not describe their symptoms in the same way as others. If your child suffers from anaphylactic reactions, you may overlook some of the symptoms. Children may be too young to tell you, have difficulty in describing the feeling, or not even realize the rash on their skin, for example.

In some cases, children will not even say anything at all. They do not understand what is happening to them and how to explain it, so they prefer to stay quiet. When they do try to tell you, they may tell you that their tongue feels funny or there are butterflies in their tummy. Trying to figure out what they mean can be difficult, but perseverance is key to getting to the bottom of things.

Checking for Allergies

To determine whether someone is suffering from anaphylaxis, doctors will need to test for allergies. This can be done through a skin or blood test. The doctor will not just want to check the type of allergy you have, but the severity of that allergy.

Skin can help to determine shellfish allergies, reactions to chemicals, and some other food allergies. A prick test is carried out on the back of the forearm with the substance the doctor believes you are allergic to and will watch for a skin reaction. Most of the time a rash, swelling, or itchiness will appear.

Blood tests will involve the drawing of blood to look out for antibodies created when exposed to certain substances. These tests are commonly used when individuals take medications or have skin conditions that can make the skin test results difficult to see or read. The blood test is also beneficial if your anaphylactic reaction is severe, risking your life.

In the majority of cases in children, the following can cause an anaphylactic reaction:

  • Milk
  • Dairy
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Wheat

When it comes to adults, the following are more likely to cause a severe reaction:

  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish

Other allergens are more likely to cause mild allergic reactions. However, medications can also cause anaphylaxis. These include:

  • Penicillin
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Some anti-inflammatory medications

However, not everyone figures out the reasons for their anaphylactic reactions. They may have a theory of the cause, but the tests to check never come back conclusive. Some people experience the reactions by doing exercise after eating! Their symptoms can be mild at times and develop into more severe reactions due to regular exposure.

What Exactly Is an Anaphylactic Reaction?

Anaphylactic shock is just as it sounds: the body goes into shock. While you see the physical reactions, there is a lot more happening within the body. The blood pressure will drop considerably, as the body is overwhelmed by some chemicals released through the immune system’s actions. As your blood pressure drops, your body starts to swell, and your airway can become blocked.

As the body goes into shock, the heart rate can spike. The body tries to handle everything that is happening, but this ends up making it all worse. Stress levels will increase, making the heart work harder and your body panic.

Steps to Take When Someone Has an Anaphylactic Reaction

The steps to take will depend on the severity of the reaction. If the reaction is mild, sometimes remaining calm and just watching for severe development of the symptoms is best. Itchy throats, runny or stuffy noses, and itchy eyes can be managed using antihistamines or other anti-allergy medications, which are often available over the counter.

It is important to remain calm when dealing with any potential allergy reaction. The stress in the body can make the health problem worse. It kick starts more inflammation in the body, which can make a mild reaction much more severe. Remove the irritant from the area when suffering to help reduce the contact with the substance.

The mild reactions are not anaphylaxis. Antihistamines will help to get rid of the reactive elements within the immune system to reduce the symptoms. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction.

When it comes to severe reactions, you will need to check for any swelling in the throat. This can make the anaphylactic shock life-threatening, as the body is not able to get the oxygen into the lungs. Remove the allergen as much as possible. If it is a bee or wasp sting, scrape the stinger away rather than picking with tweezers. Tweezers can just lead to more venom passing through the body.

Antihistamines can be useful, but you will need to consider the ability to swallow and breathe. People struggling to breathe should not take oral medications. Look out for injections instead.

If you do doubt the severity, the best course of action is to use an EpiPen. This is an injection of epinephrine, which is the best way to treat all anaphylaxis. When used immediately, it helps to prevent the development of more serious allergic reactions. You will still need to call for medical help, but the EpiPen will help to reduce the symptoms to help people breathe enough to wait for the medical personnel.

Those who have a severe allergy will likely carry an EpiPen or something similar with them. They will also likely have a medical alert bracelet, so anyone who does treat them will know the initial steps to take. This can help to make the symptoms less problematic while waiting for emergency personnel. Schools should be informed of children with an allergy. In some cases, the school will have the medical items, but most ask that the students carry their own EpiPens to ensure the injection is made right away. Discuss the necessity with your child’s school if your child has an allergy.

Preventing Anaphylactic Reactions

The best way to remain safe is to avoid anaphylaxis from occurring. This means avoiding the allergens as much as possible. If it is a food allergy, you want to avoid adding it to the shopping list. In some cases, food allergies can cause problems just from the particles in the air. Make sure your child’s school is aware of this so they can ban the food entirely from the school to protect your child. It is also worth letting your workplace know if you are the one with the severe food allergy.

There are times that you cannot avoid all allergens. This is especially the case for bug bites, bee stings, and pollen. You will need to keep an epinephrine injection with you always. Wearing a medical alert bracelet can help people act if you do suffer from a reaction. While you are not preventing the reaction, you are preventing it from getting worse.

Never use your own injection on someone else. The EpiPens are prescribed to individuals with a specific dose. Giving the dosage to the wrong person can make their reactions worse. They may take medications that react negatively with the epinephrine. It is also possible that they are allergic to the medication!

Seek Medical Attention Immediately

Even if your symptoms decrease, you should seek medical attention after an anaphylactic reaction. This is especially the case if an epinephrine injection was used. Just because your symptoms have minimized does not mean you are out of the danger zone.

If someone close to you has suffered a reaction, make sure you call emergency services. The best way to get to the hospital is by ambulance. This will ensure someone with trained medical experience is there to treat the patient should there be another reaction.

Yes, another reaction can occur. The substance may still be in the body when the medication wears off. This can lead to a delayed reaction. If not around medical personnel, it is possible that this reaction becomes more serious and there may be nobody around to help.

A patient will usually be observed for around four hours after a reaction. This will help to ensure the substance has left the body and the medication is working as it is supposed to.

What to Do If You or Your Child Suffers from Anaphylaxis

If you or your child suffers from severe allergies that lead to anaphylactic shock, you will need to make sure people in authority know. Ensure your doctors are all aware, including your dentists and eye doctors. Let the schools know of the allergens and reactions, including ensuring there is an epinephrine injection available should it be required in school.

Wearing a medical bracelet can help, and you should carry a medical kit around with you. If the allergy is so severe, talk to the school or workplace about banning particular food items from the area. While it is annoying for other parents or individuals, that annoyance is worth it to keep you or your child safe from harm.

Remember that immediate treatment is essential to help prevent the anaphylactic reactions turning deadly. Just because symptoms have minimized from the treatment does not mean you are out of the woods. Go to the hospital for observation to avoid any lasting effects later. Immediate reaction time and observation afterward can certainly help to save a life.

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