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Dangerous Allergic Reactions: Anaphylaxsis

Anaphylaxsis: A Severe Allergic Reaction Can Happen to Anyone

Ever heard of someone going to the hospital from a bee sting? Or choking from a PB&J sandwich? Maybe you’ve heard of or know someone who suffered from an almost fatal or even fatal food reaction? Well, it happens, and it probably happened because those people had anaphylaxsis. Know what the causes, symptoms, treatments and prevention techniques of anaphylaxsis – it can happen to anyone, at any time.

What is anaphylaxsis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life threatening allergic reaction and can occur in response to any allergen. The medical definition of anaphylaxis is a rapidly developing, systemic allergic reaction that is mediated by an antibody known as immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE is the “mediator” between the allergen attacking the body and the mast cell that the IgE is attached to, which triggers a release of histamine.

Anaphylaxis is the most dangerous type of allergic reaction, and the least common.

Causes of Anaphylaxsis

What Causes It?

Anaphylaxis can occur in response to any allergen.

One thing that makes the human body so amazing is its ability to defend itself against harmful substances and dangerous invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. However, in certain people, their body’s immune system is over sensitive and reacts defensively when exposed to allergens (generally harmless substances such as animal dander, dust, peanuts, mold, pollen or shellfish) by producing an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies attach to a form of blood cell called a mast cell. When patients with an allergic disease (for example, asthma or rhinitis) are exposed to an allergen[s], their immune system then rallies its defenses, launching a multitude of complex chemical weapons for an attack to destroy the supposedly identified “enemy.” What is happening in your body is that the allergens are binding to the IgE, which is attached to the mast cell. This triggers a reaction that allows the mast cells to release a variety of chemicals including histamine, which causes most of the symptoms of an allergy. During anaphylaxis, the allergic response triggers an extreme flood of chemicals, including histamines, to be released into your body. Histamine attaches to receptors in blood vessels and causes them to enlarge. Histamine also binds to other receptors causing redness, swelling, itching and changes in secretions. During this process, some unpleasant and, in extreme cases, life-threatening symptoms may be experienced.

Bee stings, fire ant stings, penicillin, and peanuts are examples of allergens known for causing serious reactions that involve the whole body and result in severe anaphylaxis. Sometimes the cause of an anaphylactic reaction is unknown.

Anaphylaxis: Symptoms & Diagnosing

How Do I know if my allergies are severe enough to be considered anaplylaxsis?
Symptoms

In terms of the symptoms experienced, there are 3 categories of the severity of Anaphylaxis. They are 1. Mild; 2. Moderate; or 3. Severe:

  1. Mild allergic reactions include symptoms that affect the skin and the layers just underneath the skin, such as hives or itchy, watery eyes.
  2. Moderate allergic reactions include symptoms that suggest cardiovascular, respiratory or gastrointestinal involvement, such as difficulty breathing or vomiting.
  3. Severe allergic reactions may begin with a sudden onset of a mild or moderate reaction and quickly progress into severe symptoms, which are hypotension (low blood pressure), confusion, loss of consciousness, or neurological compromise.

Anaphylactic shock is the most severe type of anaphylaxis. It involves a sudden drop in blood pressure and the bronchial tubes to narrow, thereby causing dizziness, mental confusion, difficulty breathing or even unconsciousness or even death.

Most anaphylactic symptoms and reactions occur within minutes after exposure to the allergen. However, there is a possibility that the reaction is delayed for hours. Another possibility is that a person may experience a dual phase allergic reaction characterized by an initial allergic reaction followed by a recurrence of the symptoms in 4-8 hours.

Treating Anaphylaxsis

What are the options to treat anaphylaxsis?

Anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reactions, generally require a medicine called epinephrine, which can potentially be life saving when immediately injected.

Managing Your Anaphylaxis

How Do I Manage It?

Fortunately, you can be prepared to respond quickly and effectively to an allergy emergency by knowing the signs and symptoms of a severe allergic reaction and by carrying emergency medication with you. It’s also important to do everything you can to prevent exposure to life-threatening allergens.

Content Created/Medically Reviewed by our Expert Doctors
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