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Anaphylaxis is a severe, sudden reaction to substances that cause allergy. It is life-threatening and involves the whole body.

Between 1 percent and 15 percent of the population of the United States can be considered at risk for having an anaphylactic reaction when exposed to one or more allergens. Of those people who experience anaphylaxis, up to 1 percent die. Anaphylaxis results in approximately 1,500 deaths per year in the U.S.

For an anaphylactic reaction to take place, an individual must have been exposed to an antigen substance in the past.

Toxins such as a bee sting, for example, may not elicit a severe allergic reaction the first time; but later, another episode may produce a sudden, severe reaction. This is called anaphylaxis, or “anaphylactic shock.”

Anaphylaxis can cause the air passageways on an affected person to tighten, causing difficulty in breathing that could cause cardiac arrest and, ultimately, death.

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is rapid, often occurring within only seconds or minutes after a bee sting or ingesting food or a drug that causes an allergy.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Fainting, light-headedness, dizziness
  • Hives, itchiness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea
  • Palpitations
  • Skin redness
  • Slurred speech
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Wheezing
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea

During an anaphylactic reaction, the affected individual will experience:

  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Low blood pressure
  • Mental confusion
  • Rapid pulse
  • Skin that is blue from lack of oxygen or pale from shock
  • Swelling in the throat that may be severe enough to block the airway
  • Swelling of the eyes or face
  • Weakness

What are some of the agents that causes anaphylaxis?

Among the common causes of anaphylactic reaction are allergies to:

  • Certain drugs
  • Certain foods
  • Insect bites/stings
  • Certain chemicals

Is there any treatment for anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis required immediate professional medical attention. Call 911 right away.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation should be initiated immediately.

How can an anaphylactic reaction be prevented?

Just like with any other allergies, avoidance is necessary. Persons experiencing an allergic reaction should be carefully monitored.

Depending on the case, people who have a history of drug allergies may safely be given the medication they are allergic to after being pretreated with corticosteroids and antihistamines.

Those who are allergic to toxins from insect stings should have on hand chewable antihistamine or injectable epinephrine.

They should always wear a medical ID such as a bracelet or necklace stating their allergy.

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