Anaphylaxis is a serious and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that affects more than one body system. It may involve the heart, airways, circulation, skin, and intestines. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may occur within seconds of a person’s exposure to the substance or food he is allergic to. The progression of anaphylaxis is very rapid, although there are occasions when its onset may be delayed by a few hours.
Anaphylaxis is commonly caused by foods such as milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, kiwi fruit, and sesame seeds, but many other foods may trigger anaphylaxis as well. There are also non-food causes of anaphylaxis such as natural latex, bee or wasp stings, and some types of drugs such as penicillin. Some people develop anaphylaxis as a result of exercise, either on its own or when combined with certain foods or drugs.
There are various symptoms of anaphylaxis. A person may first experience a significant dip in blood pressure. He may become weak and feel that something terrible is going on. Anaphylaxis may result in unconsciousness and even death. Other symptoms of anaphylaxis include the following:
- Widespread skin flushing
- Angioedema or swelling of the skin
- Swelling of the lips
- Nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting
The scope of the reaction depends on the severity of the allergy.
Anaphylaxis could occur as uniphasic, bi-phasic, or protracted. A uniphasic reaction occurs quickly with the symptoms worsening rapidly; however, the symptoms will not return anymore once they have been treated. Bi-phasic reactions may be mild or severe and followed by a period of no symptoms, after which increasing symptoms accompanied by blood pressure and breathing problems follow. Protracted anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction that can last for several days and may require hospital treatment.
The first line of defense against anaphylaxis is a pre-loaded auto-injector that contains adrenaline. It is sold as an Epi-pen, as adrenaline is commonly referred to as epinephrine. People who are prone to serious allergic reactions should keep their Epi-pen within access at all times.