WHAT IS ANAPHYLAXIS?
Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction that is a life-threatening medical emergency. Most, but not all, anaphylactic events are caused by an allergen to which the person has been exposed and become sensitive by forming allergic antibodies (IgE) towards the protein components. Upon re-exposure a rapid, severe, allergic response may occur.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ANAPHYLAXIS?
Symptoms and signs may occur very quickly (within seconds) and up to a couple of hours after exposure. Symptoms may occur in several organ systems including:
- Skin: itching, hives, flushing, and massive swelling. Swelling is particularly dangerous when involving the lips, tongue, and throat.
- Nasal: sneezing, itching, runny nose and nose blowing, congestion.
- Chest: tightness, cough, voice hoarseness, wheezing, shortness of breath.
- Gastrointestinal: nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea.
- Cardiovascular: rapid heart rate, weakness, "greying" or passing out.
- Constitutional: ashen color, sense of impending doom, headache.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON CAUSES OF ANAPHYLAXIS?
Factors or circumstances that may cause anaphylaxis:
- Stinging Insects: wasps, bees, yellow jackets, and fire ants. Fire ants may be the most common cause of these reactions in South Texas within this group.
- Foods: The most common cause of anaphylaxis from foods are peanuts, shrimp, and nuts. Almost all foods can cause anaphylaxis.
- Medication: Antibiotics and aspirin are the most common drugs to cause anaphylaxis. Like foods, however, nearly all drugs can cause this event.
- Others: Exposure to latex, sulfites, and other food additives may cause anaphylaxis.
- Idiopathic: Some people may suffer with anaphylaxis associated with exercise.
There are some people that experience recurrent anaphylaxis without a specific cause ever discerned.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I EXPERIENCE SUCH SYMPTOMS?
Since this is a life-threatening event, immediate treatment must be sought. This can best be accomplished by calling 911, or going to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.
After stabilization, you should be evaluated by an allergist/immunologist to determine the cause and long-term management to prevent recurrent events.