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Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

  • Posted on- Oct 15, 2015
  • 362 Views

Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction and in a majority of cases, the patients have to be admitted to a hospital for anaphylaxis treatment. The immune system creates specific immunoglobulin-E antibodies towards a substance that is normally harmless. The body becomes sensitized to this substance, but when the person is exposed to it again, these antibodies recognize this substance and activate immune cells to release large amounts of inflammatory substances, including histamine. These substances can cause the symptoms of anaphylaxis, which may include swelling, hives, lower blood pressure, shortness of breath, wheezing, difficulty swallowing, and loss of consciousness.

In extreme cases, a person will go into anaphylactic shock. Blood pressure drops severely and swelling occurs in the bronchial tissues, causing symptoms of choking and loss of consciousness. If anaphylactic shock isn’t treated immediately, it can be fatal.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)
 
Anaphylaxis may begin with severe itching of the eyes or face and within minutes progresses to more serious symptoms, including:

  • Swelling, which can cause difficulty swallowing and breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Hives

If you have symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek immediate medical attention, as the condition can quickly result in an increased heart rate, sudden weakness, a drop in blood pressure, shock, and ultimately unconsciousness and even death.

Causes of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)

Food allergy is a recognized cause of anaphylaxis especially peanuts, tree nuts, fish, cow’s milk, egg, wheat, and soy. Allergy to bee or wasp stings are also recognized causes of anaphylaxis.

Some substances can cause reactions, called anaphylactic reactions, that are similar to and just as serious as anaphylaxis, but do not involve immunoglobulin-E antibodies. Aspirin, other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and intravenous radio-contrast dye given for CT scans are recognized causes of these reactions.

Treatment of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)

The only effective treatment for acute anaphylaxis is epinephrine (adrenaline) by injection. Epinephrine works quickly to reverse anaphylactic symptoms. Epinephrine can be given through a self-delivered injection device. The most common injection site is the thigh.

If you are near someone who is going into anaphylactic shock, call for professional medical help immediately. Some life saving measures may be required. If breathing is compromised, medical professionals may have to place a tube through the nose or mouth into the airway or even perform emergency surgery to place a tube directly into the trachea.

In addition to epinephrine, treatment for shock includes intravenous fluids and medications that support the actions of the heart and circulatory system. After a person in shock is stabilized, medications such as antihistamines and corticosteroids may be given to further reduce symptoms.

Surviving with anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)

If you are allergic to bee stings or any substances that cause anaphylaxis, you should always be prepared. Carry an epinephrine injection kit with you at all times. Also, if you have any drug allergies, you should always inform your health care provider before undergoing any type of treatment, including dental care.

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