Anaphylaxis

General Illness Information

Common Name:
ANAPHYLAXIS

Medical Term: None Specified

Description: An acute, generalized life-threatening allergic or hypersensitive reaction in a previously sensitized person (i.e. a person who has previously been exposed to that particular allergen) who comes into contact with the same allergen again. Reactions that occur almost immediately tend to be the most severe. Anaphylaxis can be caused by any allergen. The most common allergens are medications, insect bites, certain foods, and allergy injections (immunotherapy).

Causes:

Eating or receiving injections of something to which you are sensitive. The allergic response to neutralize or get rid of the material results in a life-threatening overreaction. Substances that cause reactions most often include:

  • Medication of all types, especially penicillin (injections are much riskier than oral or eye-drop medications);
  • Immunotherapy (allergy injections);
  • Stings or bites from insects, such as bees, wasps, hornets, biting ants and some spiders;
  • Vaccines;
  • Pollen;
  • Injected chemicals used in some types of X-ray studies;
  • Foods, especially nuts, eggs, beans, seafood and fruit;
  • Exercise induced.

Prevention:

  • If you have an allergic history, tell the doctor or dentist before accepting any medication.
  • Before you are given a shot, ask what it is.
  • Keep an anaphylaxis kit, such as an Ana-Kit or Epi-Pen with you at all times.
  • Be sure your family knows how to use the kit if you have a reaction.
  • If allergic to insect stings, wear protective clothing when outside.
  • Wear a medical alert type bracelet or pendant warning that you are allergic.
  • Always remain in the doctor’s office 15 minutes after receiving any injection.
  • Report any symptoms immediately. Your doctor may refer you to an allergist.

Signs & Symptoms

An anaphylactic reaction begins when an allergen enters the blood stream and reacts with an IgE type antibody. This reaction causes the cells to release histamine and other inflammatory substances thus precipitating an immune inflammatory response.

Typically, in 1 to 15 minutes, the patient feels uneasy, becomes agitated and flushed and may present with the following:

  • Palpitations

Parasthesia (sensation of pins and needles)

  • Pruritis (itching) and hives
  • Throbbing in the ears
  • Coughing , wheezing and difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing because of swelling of the tongue and throat
  • In a severe reaction, patient may go into shock, become incontinent, convulse, become unconscious and die.

Risk Factors

  • A previous mild allergic response to things listed above.
  • Medical history of eczema, hay fever or asthma.

Diagnosis & Treatment

General Measures:

  • Without prompt treatment, anaphylaxis can cause shock, cardiac arrest and death.
  • If you observe signs of anaphylaxis in someone and he or she stops breathing, call or have someone call 911 (emergency) or call 0 (operator) for an ambulance or medical help. (If the victim is a child, perform lifesaving measures for 1 minute before calling for emergency help).
  • Begin mouth-to-mouth breathing and CPR immediately. If there is no heart beat, give external cardiac massage. Don’t stop CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) until help arrives.
  • Be alert to the possibility of a reaction when taking any medicine, and be prepared to respond quickly if symptoms occur. If you have had a previous severe allergic reaction, always carry your anaphylaxis kit.
  • Long-term treatment involves desensitization therapy.

Medications:

  • Epinephrine by injection is the only effective immediate treatment. (Epi-Pen)
  • Aminophylline, cortisone drugs or antihistamines, given after the adrenaline, help prevent the return of acute symptoms.

Activity:

Resume your normal activities after symptoms improve after an attack. Stay under someone’s observation for 24 hours in case symptoms recur.

Diet:

Avoid foods to which you are allergic.

Prognosis

Full recovery with prompt treatment.

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