Certain people have a genetic predisposition to allergy to some materials, since birth. Anaphylaxis is a condition which involves severe, life-threatening allergic reactions. This blog is a comprehensive guide to anaphylaxis, its symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment.
What is anaphylaxis?
As mentioned above, it is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur within seconds to a few hours of being exposed to some triggers, like peanuts or bee stings. Anaphylaxis can be fatal.
The immune system releases chemicals causing shock and low blood pressure. The airways begin to constrict making breathing difficult.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of anaphylaxis start appearing within a few minutes or hours of exposure to the triggers. In certain cases, it can take up to 30 minutes for the body to react to triggers. Some of the most common symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Skin reaction, rashes, and flushed skin
- Low blood pressure
- Narrowed airways, swollen tongue or throat
- Dizziness or fainting
- Weak or rapid pulse
When to see a doctor?
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening illness. It is important to seek emergency help when individuals experience any of the abovementioned symptoms. Once affected by anaphylaxis, chances of recurrence are very high, and care should be taken to avoid exposure to the triggers.
What causes anaphylaxis?
The antibodies released by the immune system are designed to defend the body against foreign substances. But when the immune system overreacts to substances that don’t cause any harm, it becomes lethal. Usually, allergic reactions are not life-threatening. But severe cases of allergies lead to anaphylaxi. Allergy symptoms aren’t usually life-threatening, but a severe allergic reaction can lead to anaphylaxis. Even if you had only a mild anaphylactic reaction in the past, there’s a risk of more severe anaphylaxis after another exposure to the allergy-causing substance.
Some of the most common triggers include food allergies, such as peanuts, fish, shellfish, milk, and sesame among others. The allergy can be recognized at a very young age and can be prevented by avoiding these triggers.
Certain other reasons for anaphylaxis include:
- Medications like antibiotics, aspirin, and other pain relievers
- Insect stings such as wasps, bees, yellow jackets, hornets, and other insects
- Latex is typically found in rubber bands, gloves, or balloons.
The triggers for anaphylaxis are uncertain in some people. Some causes are even linked to aerobic exercise, mild walking, consumption of certain foods before jogging or walking, and the weather during exercising.
How to diagnose and prevent anaphylaxis?
To identify triggers that cause allergic reactions, it is important to consult a physician. They may help to identify the triggers based on the symptoms. Blood and skin checks may be recommended to get a correct diagnosis. The best way to prevent this disease is to follow some of the below-mentioned steps:
- Wear a medical alert necklace that can help display the triggers
- It is advisable for a patient to keep a medical kit with them at all times. In case of contact with the allergen that triggers an allergic reaction, the patient can immediately administer medication themselves or ask for help to do the same.
- Check on the expiration date of the medication such as the epinephrine autoinjector
- The patient should always discuss known allergies to medication before any procedure .
- If a person is allergic to insect stings, they should ensure to wear long pants and sleeves, not walk barefoot on the grass, keep away from wearing bright clothing, and avoid applying colognes or perfumes. In case of being in proximity to a stinging insect, stay calm, walk away, and don’t try to slap the insect away
- Read food labels to learn about the ingredients used. If any one of them is a trigger, avoid consuming it or even storing it at home.
What are the treatment options?
If a person experiences an attack, it is advisable to not wait for the symptoms to gradually reduce, but visit the physician at the earliest. The doctor may immediately administer the epinephrine medication. After injecting the medication, the symptoms may subside. Sometimes the patient may have to stay in the emergency room to ensure the symptoms do not recur (sometimes even without further exposure to the trigger – this second attack is known as biphasic anaphylaxis.)
The diagnosis and long-term treatment for anaphylaxis are quite complicated. It is best to visit a a specialist in allergies and immunology and discuss to understand the causes of the reaction. Once the triggers are identified, prevention becomes easier. In some cases, the triggers cannot be identified and it will require the person to carry epinephrine injectors to use them when required.
Frequently Asked Questions
1.What is venom immunotherapy? Is it used as a treatment for severe allergic reactions?
This is a treatment method where small doses of venom are injected into the human body at l intervals to reduce the sensitivity to the venom. This therapy helps people suffering from severe sensitivity to insect bites.
2.What is biphasic anaphylaxis?
Biphasic anaphylaxis refers to the second wave of an allergic reaction after the first wave subsides. It may occur hours or even days after the first wave without any triggers.
3.What is an anaphylactic shock?
Sometimes anaphylactic reaction ends up in anaphylactic shock. The blood pressure drops suddenly, and the bronchial tissues swell making the person feel shortness of breath and wheezing. The patient may even lose consciousness. This is fatal and requires immediate medical attention.
4.Can the smell of certain materials cause anaphylaxis?
Yes. Certain people are sensitive to the smell of latex, pollen or other allergens. So, chances of getting anaphylaxis through smell cannot be ruled out.