How to Identify and Cope
by Marva J. Morris, M.D., Private Practice, Allergy & Immunology
Anaphylaxis is a life threatening syndrome usually due
to an immune mechanism. It is a systemic reaction, potentially fatal,
that can involve many parts of the body, such as the skin, respiratory
tract, gastrointestinal tract and the cardiovascular system. While foods
and medications are the most common triggers, the causes are by no means
confined to foods and drugs. Unknown causes account for approximately
1/3 of cases.
The most common signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis are erythema (redness),
pruritis (itching), hives (rash), and swelling or edema. Difficulty breathing,
wheezing and coughing may follow the aforementioned symptoms. Difficulty
swallowing due to swelling of the mouth and throat area may also occur.
Gastrointestinal symptoms include vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea.
The symptoms may progress to unconsciousness, if untreated.
Anaphylaxis usually produces signs and symptoms within 5 to 30 minutes
after contact with the allergen, but sometimes reactions do not develop
for several hours. The immediate symptoms may subside and then return
4 to 6 hours later (called biphasic or late reaction). Please speak with
your physician about prevention of the "late reaction."
The most common causes:
Foods: peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish. Keep in mind, any food may be the
Drugs: Any, including aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs, such as ibuprofen, vaccines and insect venoms. Latex and other
rubber products may also trigger a reaction.
Measures to take:
- Speak with your doctor if an anaphylactic reaction
has occurred, or if you think such a reaction has occurred.
others about your allergy, such as teachers, school officials,
family and friends. They should know the signs and symptoms, what should
be avoided and also the emergency procedures.
- Carry an EpiPen (self-injectible
epinephrine). Understand clearly when and how to use this drug.
- Administer Epinephrine as the First emergency
treatment. Immediately after taking the EpiPen, the reactive
person should be
taken to an emergency
facility or doctor’s office.
- Wear a Medic-Alert bracelet.
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