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Anaphylaxis – Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

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Anaphylaxis is an extreme allergic reaction. It results in a potentially fatal condition generally referred to as anaphylactic shock. Substances that the body commonly react to include food, venom, insect bites, and medication. These are known as allergens.

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The main cause of anaphylaxis is food allergy, as reported by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). In the United States, anaphylactic reaction to what people eat is responsible for one emergency visit every 3 minutes and is very common in teenagers and many young adults.

How does anaphylaxis happen?

Many individuals react to allergens or substances that could cause a runny nose, watery eyes, or even rash. Nevertheless, an extreme allergic reaction can result in a fatal condition known as anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis occurs when the body reacts negatively to an allergen, or a substance as if it were threatened, like a virus or bacteria.

An inflammatory response can be triggered when the body gives off a large amount of histamine. This rapid response can cause the blood vessels to dilate, which may lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure, become unconscious, and shock.

As the airways become narrow, it becomes difficult to breathe. Leakage in the blood vessels may occur, which may lead to swelling, or edema around the tissue.

A person may experience all this after coming into contact with substances, or allergens that could trigger the reactions, and it could last for hours, or on rare occasions, days.

Symptoms

Knowing the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis is very important, as it may save someone’s life in urgent situations. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Hard time breathing, chest pain, tightened throat, short breaths, and wheezing.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Nasal congestion and itchy throat or mouth.
  • Very hoarse voice or cough.
  • A heavy feeling in the tongue.
  • Feeling of tightness in the mouth or throat.
  • Itchiness and swelling on the skin, with redness, hives, warmth, and a rash.
  • Nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting.
  • Anxiety.
  • Swelling of the lips, hands, feet, eyes and in some cases, the genitals.
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Low pulse, pale blue skin, faintness, dizziness, and shock.

A person may also experience itchy eyes, headache, watery eyes, and cramping in the uterus. They could also have a metallic taste in your mouth. Difficulty breathing, rapid drop in blood pressure can lead to shock, and in a worst-case scenario, death.

First aid

Urgent medical attention is necessary when a person starts showing signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis.

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It is also important that first aid is immediately administered before proper medication is administered and here are some of the following first aid for anaphylaxis;

  • Discard the source of the allergen, if possible, and immediately request for emergency assistance.
  • Inquire if the patient has any allergy history.
  • Ensure to calm and make the patient comfortable.
  • Administer medications that may be able to help the patient.

Patients who are aware of their allergy condition may have medications that are a form of an adrenaline injection, like EpiPen, that they can readily use whenever they experience an allergic reaction. This injection helps to deliver a dose of epinephrine, which is another form of adrenaline that helps patients recover quickly.

Breathing

It is completely necessary that patients experiencing anaphylaxis can breathe. The person watching the patient could make the person stay sitting up to make breathing less difficult.

However, if the patient’s blood pressure has dropped, they should lay flat on the floor with both legs raised.

Their condition should be closely monitored, at least until the proper medication is being administered to them. Also, be ready to inform the health care provider what the possible cause of the allergic reaction is.

It would help greatly if a small sample of what triggered the reaction was kept and presented to the medical professionals.

In cases where the patient isn’t breathing and health care providers are yet to arrive, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) has to be performed and continued until professional help arrives.

Treatment

Emergency treatments for a patient with anaphylaxis will be adrenaline or epinephrine, injection. Adrenalin, commonly referred to as epinephrine, works in many ways.

  • It promotes relaxation in the muscles around the lungs.
  • It helps the blood vessels to constrict, hence increasing blood pressure and decreasing swelling.
  • It also hinders the release of chemicals that can cause additional allergic reactions.

Most patients get better when given this treatment, and the allergic symptoms start to subside almost immediately.

If improvement isn’t noticed, then patients would receive another medication after 10 minutes. Other times, symptoms come back even after taking adrenaline.

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At this point, patients need at least 24 hours of observation in the hospital. Antihistamine or corticosteroid injections may be given if the reaction is less severe.

Prevention

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition that requires an emergency response. Those susceptible to anaphylaxis are people with allergies. Nonetheless, this reaction is hard to predict. A person may even react to things they’ve never reacted to before.

It would help to note the cause of a react after you’ve had it, this is so you avoid it in the future. Since it isn’t possible to predict or always avoid an allergen, patients may need to carry an injector with them.

They would also have to wear a bracelet so people know that they are allergic, especially when they are having a reaction that requires the help of others to control.

Employees or employers, friends, related, school and places you mostly spend your time should be informed of allergies that could lead to a severe reaction.

Anaphylaxis is categorized as a life-threatening emergency that requires rapid assistance. Everyone should be aware of the signs and symptoms, and most importantly, know how to react.

Interesting facts you need to know about anaphylaxis.

  • Anaphylaxis is an extreme allergic reaction.
  • It can cause potentially fatal blood pressure, difficulty breathing, shock, and death.
  • In the USA, there are one hospital emergency every 3 minutes as a result of anaphylactic reactions triggered by allergens in food.
  • Adrenaline injections like an EpiPen can be given to stop symptoms progression.
  • Patients who avoid known allergens can greatly minimize the risk of anaphylaxis.

Are you allergic to anything? Would you like to tell us what it is and the steps you take to get better before health care workers get to you? Have any thoughts on this article you’d love to share? Please use the comment box below.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Oluwafemi Michael
Oluwafemi Michael is an online Mental Health Therapist, Advocate for Mental Health Awareness, a programmer, and also a content creator from Edo state, Akoko-Edo LG.

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