Last year, I wrote a sharepost on the AllergyNetwork.com site about allergic shock, also known as anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. This is an especially severe allergic reaction to something that can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated immediately. The most common triggers are a food allergy or a stinging insect allergy.
What makes this type of allergic reaction so deadly is the fact that it is so often unexpected. If you know you are allergic to peanuts or bee stings, you may have suffered through a severe reaction in the past, such as hives, feeling that your throat is closing, etc. Those symptoms can stop there, or they may quickly progress to something far worse.
What happens sometimes, though, is that even if you never had a reaction before or you've only had mild reactions, your next contact with the offending substance can result in a rapid severe deterioration that can only be halted with immediate emergency treatment such as an epinephrine injection.
Even more disturbing is the fact that people with asthma are especially prone to anaphylaxis. The risk is particularly high if your asthma is not well-controlled. Complicating things is the fact that early signs of allergic shock can be confused with an asthma attack.
It is important to note that anaphylaxis is very treatable. The reason people die from it is because they are not prepared, it is not recognized, or treatment doesn't begin soon enough.
Your Anaphylaxis Prevention Plan
The good news is that you can prevent anaphylaxis in many instances, if you invest the time and effort. Here are some simple steps.
- Read labels. Before you eat anything, read the labels carefully. Peanuts and tree nuts are the most common triggers for a food-allergy related anaphylaxis episode. You might be surprised at some of the foods nuts or nut products are found in.
- Ask questions when you eat out. Sometimes, people with food allergies don't want to bother with asking questions of wait staff, or they are embarrassed. But your life could depend on your diligence in finding out what goes into the food you order. Ask the wait staff to check with the chef if necessary.
- Watch for cross contamination & airborne allergens. Even being near someone who is eating a nut product can be enough to trigger your allergies. So can using a utensil that came into contact with an allergen. Be on the watch for these situations.
- Keep your asthma under control. When your asthma is well-controlled, you'll be less susceptible to allergic shock. So, take your daily controller medicines and do your best to avoid other asthma triggers and keep your symptoms from acting up.
- Carry injectable epinephrine with you at all times. When you have food allergies or stinging insect allergies, or if you've ever had an anaphylactic reaction in the past, it's essential that you get a prescription for injectable epinephrine and learn how to use it. Be sure you carry your epinephrine with you wherever you go, especially when you eat out.
Your Anaphylaxis Treatment Plan
Knowing when, and how, to act in the event the worst happens and you do have an allergic shock reaction is absolutely essential. Here are some crucial steps.
- If you have food allergies and begin to have symptoms, assume it is anaphylaxis first. As I mentioned earlier, allergic shock can mimic asthma in its early stages, with wheezing and shortness of breath. But it won't respond to your rescue inhaler. Indeed, it just keeps getting worse.
- Take immediate action. If you're carrying injectable epinephrine (you should be), use it at the first sign of trouble. Don't wait to see how things develop and don't wait for a health professional to OK it. There's no downside to using epinephrine if it's not needed. But you could die if it's needed and you don't use it.
- Follow up with emergency treatment. Once the epinephrine has been given, getting treatment at the nearest emergency facility is required. They can follow up and either make sure you're returning to a stable condition or provide further treatment to get you stable. Don't skip this step!
I'm not sharing this post to inspire fear. My purpose is to educate you, to help you understand the risk that people with asthma, especially uncontrolled asthma, face. But it's a risk that can be fairly easily handled, with the right amount of attention. You can do it!
Published On: April 22, 2009