Anaphylaxis is a sudden and severe allergic reaction that involves multiple body systems. This is a life-threatening medical emergency.You often experience skin reactions and shortness of breath, and develop anaphylactic shock as your blood pressure drops. Learn how to recognize an allergic reaction so you can seek medical attention right away.
Anaphylaxis is primarily an allergic reaction. Allergies become anaphylaxis once allergies begin to affect multiple body systems, such as the skin and respiratory system. Allergic reactions occur suddenly and symptoms progress rapidly. It most commonly develops after eating, being bitten by an insect, or taking medication.
what to watch out for
To identify anaphylactic shock, start by looking for allergy symptoms, including:
- Red, raised, mottled skin seen in 90% of cases
- Wheezing or shortness of breath in 70% of cases
Symptoms can be seen in many parts of the body:
- Skin: You may have flushing and itching. Hives may appear, when you press on them, they appear as itchy bumps, and they turn white (white). Angioedema develops, which is swelling under the skin.
- Eyes: You may have signs of irritation, including itching, redness, watering, and the skin around your eyes may be swollen.
- Upper respiratory tract: congestion, runny nose, and sneezing may occur. You may experience a swollen throat, choking, or a hoarse voice.
- Mouth: You may experience swelling of your tongue, lips, or throat, or have an abnormal taste.
- Lower airway: You may have trouble breathing, wheezing, and chest tightness
- Circulatory system: You may have fast or slow heartbeat and low blood pressure. You may feel dizzy, faint or pass out.
- Nervous system: You may become anxious or confused, slur your speech, and may even feel that bad luck is coming.
- Digestive System: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain may occur.
An allergic reaction can turn into anaphylactic shock when a person shows signs of low blood pressure:
- pale color
Anaphylactic shock usually involves shortness of breath. A person doesn’t always have trouble breathing, but if symptoms do occur, it’s a good indicator that an allergic reaction is turning into an anaphylaxis.
signs of anaphylactic shock
Some telltale signs include:
- Can’t say more than a word or two
- Sit upright or put your hands on your knees
- pursed lips breathing
- Use your neck muscles to breathe
Allergen exposure as a marker
Signs and symptoms of anaphylactic shock are easier to recognize if allergen exposure is known. For example, those allergic to bee stings usually know they have been stung. Anyone who has ever had an allergic reaction should be aware of any symptoms, even if no allergen exposure is found. For example, people with food allergies are more likely to experience allergic reactions when they eat, even if they don’t think they’re eating the food they’re allergic to.
If someone is wearing medical alert jewelry that indicates an allergy, this can help determine the cause of the symptoms.
The onset of an allergic reaction usually begins within 5 to 30 minutes of coming into contact with the allergen you are allergic to, but can take more than an hour. However, there are also atypical patterns.
Bipolar anaphylaxis occurs in up to 20% of patients and occurs in children and adults, although this was once thought to be rare. In this presentation, the initial allergic reaction manifested and subsided, but the reaction returned hours to days later. This is why someone may be hospitalized for observation after an allergic reaction. In some cases, people do not experience the most severe symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing, and decide not to seek medical care. However, this puts them at risk for bipolar reactions, which can have serious consequences.
A pediatric case study published in 2015 found a higher incidence in children aged 6 to 9. They were more likely to have received more than one dose of epinephrine, suggesting that their reactions were more severe. They were also more likely to delay receiving epinephrine treatment or arriving at the emergency room.
Long-term allergic reactions are rare. In this case, symptoms may last from a few days to more than a week without completely disappearing.
If left untreated, allergic reactions can lead to death. Myocardial infarction or atrial fibrillation can occur during anaphylaxis, and these cardiac risks are greater in patients over the age of 50.
Epinephrine is the drug of choice for treating allergic reactions, but it carries risks of overdose and cardiovascular complications. In older patients, some studies suggest that intramuscular injections are safer than intravenous epinephrine.
when to see a doctor
Seek immediate medical attention if you have any symptoms of an allergic reaction. Calling 911 for emergency treatment is appropriate.
Do not wait to call for urgent care. The reaction can proceed rapidly. Hives can turn into anaphylactic shock within minutes. If you are alone, you may lose consciousness before seeking care.
If you know you are at risk for an allergic reaction, call emergency medical care as soon as you know you have been exposed. Even if you use an epinephrine auto-injector, you need emergency treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes allergic reactions?
Allergic reactions are triggered by allergens. Foods such as nuts, fish, shellfish, and milk are allergens commonly associated with allergic reactions in children. In adults, besides food, insect bites, latex, and certain medications are common causes of allergic reactions.
How long does it take for an allergic reaction to occur?
Allergic reactions usually occur 5 to 30 minutes after exposure to the allergen. In some cases, it may take an hour or more. Some people have a delayed allergic reaction until symptoms appear several days later. Others have bipolar anaphylaxis, where the initial mild symptoms seem to subside, but then become more severe within hours or days.
When is an allergic reaction life-threatening?
Allergic reactions can cause shock. This is a critical condition caused by a sudden drop in blood flow throughout the body. Anaphylactic shock can lead to death by restricting the amount of blood and oxygen reaching the organs, resulting in coma, coma, cardiac arrest, and even death. An allergic reaction can also cause choking due to severe swelling of the throat. If left untreated, an allergic reaction can lead to death within minutes to hours.
How are allergic reactions treated?
The first line of treatment for an allergic reaction is injection of epinephrine, which relaxes smooth muscle and increases circulation. If the affected person stops breathing, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be required. Other treatments may include:
- high flow oxygen therapy
- Intravenous antihistamines to relieve allergic reactions
- Intravenous corticosteroids to moderate the overall immune response
- a beta agonist, such as albuterol, to ease breathing
What can you expect after being treated for an allergic reaction?
With early and appropriate treatment, allergic reactions can usually improve within a few hours (although you may be taken to the hospital for overnight observation). In severe cases, recovery may take several days. If not treated properly, allergic reactions can lead to permanent heart, brain, lung and kidney damage.
Who should carry an allergy kit?
Anyone with a history of anaphylaxis should carry an anaphylaxis kit, which includes an epinephrine auto-injector (called an EpiPen) and sometimes a strong oral antihistamine such as diphenhydramine. You may also be advised to bring an allergy kit and medical ID bracelet if you have a history of severe allergies. An allergist can advise you if you need it.
How to Prevent Allergic Reactions