Anaphylaxis – definition and treatment

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People with allergies can have a variety of reactions to their allergens. Along the most extreme lines are the anaphylactic responses. Although anaphylactic reactions can be mild, the term is generally used in regards to the severe and life threatening reactions that can happen in relation to an allergen. When exposed to an allergen the body responds by releasing histamines. These histamines cause a variety of symptoms the severity of which is related to the amount of exposure and how sensitive the person is to those allergens.
Anaphylaxis is a systemic response and involves a combination of symptoms including the respiratory, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems of the body. Reactions can happen immediately after exposure up to 2 hours and in rare instances as long as 4 hours after exposure.


Food related allergens most likely to cause these severe reactions are shellfish, eggs, peanuts and msg. This doesn’t mean that other items can’t cause anaphylactic reactions but these items seem to be the most common.
Bee stings and wasp stings are also a major culprit for susceptible people. Even a single sting will cause an anaphylactic response in certain individuals. Even if a person was never allergic to stings they can become severely reactive after repeated exposure or a single but extreme run in with bees or wasps. A good rule of thumb is, if a person is stung more than 5 times at once, get them immediate medical treatment.
Certain medication such as aspirin and penicillin can cause anaphylactic reactions.


There are differing symptoms for anaphylaxis. The over arching issue is the rapidity of response and the fact that it frequently impairs breathing, needing emergency intervention. Some people will experience a tingling, itching or numbness in the tongue, lips and roof of the mouth and may include a strange metallic taste. This can advance rapidly to swelling of the mouth and throat cutting off the ability to breath. Also noted is flushing, increased heart rate or palpitations, a rapid drop in blood pressure, asthma and related breathing difficulties and a loss of consciousness.
Related symptoms as in bee & wasp stings can be hives, rash, itching and breathing difficulties, asthmas and loss of consciousness as well.


Treatment for severe allergies resulting in anaphylaxis starts with avoidance. Of course it might take a single exposure to realize how important this is. Reading labels on food, questioning food servers at restaurants is important but they don’t always have the necessary information. Staying armed with a fast acting antihistamine is a good idea as is carrying an epi-pen (prescribed by a physician). Getting a person to the emergency room or a physician as quickly as possible is important as life threatening symptoms can come on quickly. It can help to immerse a person in a hot bath or a hot shower to help the body rid itself of the offending toxin. However this is not a good idea if a poison oak or ivy is the culprit. In this case a cool shower with a mild soap is best for washing off the oils.

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