Does anaphylactic shock increase the risk of PTSD?

Many traumatic events—such as sexual assault, combat exposure, natural disasters, and motor vehicle accidents—can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But the link between anaphylactic shock and PTSD is often overlooked.

Through the review of these two situations, understand the facts about how anaphylactic shock increases the risk of PTSD.

What is anaphylactic shock?

Anaphylactic shock (or allergic reaction) is a severe allergic reaction that can be triggered by many different things, including bee stings, certain foods (such as peanuts), or medications. Allergic reactions usually involve many symptoms, such as skin rash or hives, facial swelling, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, and runny nose.

In some cases, a person can also have difficulty breathing due to swelling of the throat. A severe allergic reaction can lead to death.

As you might expect, such a strong allergic reaction may bring panic, anxiety and fear of death to the patient.

Therefore, anaphylactic shock can be regarded as a traumatic event that may lead to PTSD. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, a person needs to experience events that meet the following criteria:

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  • Experience or witness an event that threatens death or serious injury. The incident may also involve a threat to the physical health of one person or the physical health of another person.
  • The reaction to the event, including strong fear, helplessness, or fear.

Looking at the events that may occur during anaphylactic shock, there is no doubt that it can meet the criteria for traumatic events that can lead to PTSD.

Anaphylactic shock and post-traumatic stress disorder

A study conducted by researchers from Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates and the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom examined the symptoms of PTSD in 94 people who had experienced allergic reactions.

They found that more than half of people who had experienced allergic reactions reported high levels of PTSD symptoms, especially avoidance symptoms. In addition, about one in ten people have severe enough symptoms that they may meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. In addition to PTSD, the people in this study also stated that in addition to anxiety, social problems, and depression, they also suffer from other physical problems, with a higher incidence than people who have not experienced anaphylactic shock.

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Where to get help

You can learn more about the effects of anaphylactic shock by consulting a healthcare professional, reading books about anaphylactic shock, or consulting online resources. In addition, although PTSD caused by allergic reactions has not really been extensively studied, the treatment of this type of PTSD may be the same as the treatment of PTSD caused by other types of traumatic events.

In particular, exposure therapy, especially exposure therapy involving exposure to physical symptoms associated with anaphylactic shock, may help reduce avoidance behaviors and intrusive thoughts about anaphylactic shock.

However, among people who have experienced anaphylactic shock, some avoidance behaviors are healthy. For example, if peanuts cause an allergic reaction, patients can completely avoid peanuts or products packaged in facilities with peanut dust in the future.