Anaphylaxis & You - What You Need to Know

Health Professional

In my last post, I talked about allergies to medicine and how that can result in anaphylaxis. I thought I'd go into a bit more detail in this post about what anaphylaxis is and what you can do about it.

Allergies come in many forms. There's the kind closely linked to asthma that can cause sneezing, sniffling, stuffy head, wheezing, and cough. Then, there's the kind that causes itchy skin, rashes and sensitivity to all sorts of chemicals and lotions.

None of those kinds of allergies are much fun, but you can learn to live with them if you have to while you're getting them under control. At worst, the symptoms are bothersome.

Anaphylaxis, though, is like a super-allergic reaction and it's not something you can learn to live with. It can be life-threatening if not treated. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that affects 2 or more parts of your body at the same time, including:

  • skin
  • mouth
  • stomach
  • lungs
  • heart

Sometimes the symptoms occur in sequence, starting with skin reactions like rashes or hives and progressing to more serious symptoms, such as throat swelling. But other times, the reaction starts with the serious stuff. There's really no way of knowing which way it will go.

Any allergic reaction may potentially progress to anaphylaxis, but most do not. However, anaphylaxis is more common in the case of:

  • food allergies, especially to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, seafood, eggs, and milk
  • stinging insects, such as bees, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants
  • latex, such as that found in elastic waistbands of clothing or in medical gloves
  • certain medications, especially antibiotics, anesthesia, aspirin, and anti-seizure drugs

Anyone can have an anaphylactic reaction, but people with asthma, eczema, and allergies are most likely to do so. And once you've had one anaphylactic reaction, you're more likely to have one again.

Anaphylaxis is very treatable, but the reason it results in death is usually because it is not caught and treated in time. The treatment of choice is an injection of epinephrine. So, if you know you or your child has a history of anaphylaxis or a severe allergy to foods or stinging insects, it's a good idea to carry autoinjectable epinephrine at all times, such an Epi-Pen.

Anaphylaxis is preventable, but you need to be prepared. The Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics has recently released a great downloadable booklet to help you learn more about anaphylaxis and how to deal with it. It's called Anaphylaxis - A Guide for You & Me.

Parents of kids at risk for anaphylaxis may want to consider sharing this booklet with their child's school staff too.