Anaphylaxis - Are You Prepared to Act Quickly?

  • Anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, is not as rare as many people think. In fact, a recent study by the Allergy & Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA) found that anaphylaxis has occurred in close to 1 out of every 50 Americans, possibly even 1 out of every 20. Chances are, someone you know has experienced anaphylaxis in their lifetime.


    What It Is


    Anaphylaxis is a severe, sudden allergic reaction that can result in death if not recognized and treated right away. It typically involves two or more body organs, such as:

    • the skin
    • airways and lungs
    • stomach
    • heart or blood pressure

    The most common triggers for anaphylaxis are foods such as nuts and seafood, medications, insect bites/stings and latex like that found in balloons and medical gloves. Exercise can even be a trigger in some cases.

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    Symptoms may include:

    • difficulty breathing
    • rashes, hives or swelling of the lips, tongue or skin
    • vomiting
    • a drop in blood pressure
    • loss of consciousness

    Sometimes these symptoms progress from the more mild to severe, while other times, the reaction starts with a bang, with the most severe symptoms. There is no way to predict how it will go. Respiratory symptoms are the most common, however, followed next by skin-related symptoms, and with gastrointestinal symptoms being the least common.


    People with asthma appear to be at a higher risk of developing anaphylaxid than the general population.


    How to Treat Anaphylaxis


    Anaphylaxis should always be treated as a life-threatening emergency, no matter how mild the symptoms seem to be at first. You never want to wait and see what happens.


    1. Administer portable autoinjectable epinephrine, if available.

    2. Call 911 or seek emergency help immediately!


    Unfortunately, there is no real preventive or curative therapy for anaphylaxis. It can strike at any time without warning. If you or someone you care for knows that anaphylaxis is a possibility, you should get a prescription filled for epinephrine and carry it at all times.


    Significance of This Study


    The study done by AAFA via telephone surveyed more than 2000 people who had a history of an allergic reaction. It took more than a year to gather and analyze 500 pages of data. In the end, they were able to estimate the prevalence of anaphylaxis, as outlined in the first paragraph of this post. But there was also an alarming finding that, even as common as anaphylaxis appears to be, most people are not prepared to do the right thing when emergency reactions occur.


    As stated above, people who are at risk for anaphylaxis should be prescribed epinephrine auto-injectors to keep on-hand at all times and ready to use if an emergency occurs.


    But the study found that as many as 60% of those surveyed simply were not prepared to deal with an anaphylactic reaction:

    • Many (52%!) had never had an auto-injector prescribed, or if they had, had not bothered to fill the prescription.
    • Others had a filled prescription, but did not always keep the auto-injector with them everywhere they went.
    • Still others either did not recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction when they occurred, thus taking no action, OR just failed to act in a timely manner even when they did realize an allergic reaction was happening.

    In fact, only 11% of the survey respondents who had weathered anaphylaxis in the  past had used epinephrine, and only 10% had called 911. Considering the majority of the respondents had had at least 2 incidents of anaphylaxis in the past (often more), this is truly alarming.


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    How You Can Help


    First of all, if you are someone you care for has experienced anaphylaxis, talk to your doctor right away about getting a prescription filled for an epinephrine auto-injector... and carry it at all times.


    Second, help spread the word that anaphylaxis can occur anywhere at any time. Parents, teachers, coaches, neighbors, friends and family can expect to be on the front-lines dealing with anaphylaxis at some point in their lives and they should be prepared to act quickly.


    1. Know the symptoms & don't confuse anaphylaxis with an asthma attack.

    2. Check for an epinephrine auto-injector and give it at the first sign of an allergy attack.

    3. Call 911 or emergency services immediately.


    Better safe than sorry!


    For more info, you can read the full report of the study or download AAFA's pamphlet, Anaphylaxis - A Guide for You and Me.

Published On: November 08, 2013