Allergic Anaphylaxis Reaction

Category: Miscellaneous Articles Published on Wednesday, 25 June 2008 Written by Yong Tsai, MD

Anaphylaxis, a systemic allergic reaction that can be fatal within minutes occurs either due to severe airway swelling or due to a dramatic drop in blood pressure.  When allergic individuals are exposed to offending allergens, such as medication, food, insect bites, latex, animals, pollen, odors, fumes, or temperature change, anaphylaxis can occur, in more severe cases.  In some cases the cause may be exercise or even of an unknown origin (idiopathic). In the United States alone, as high 40.9 million of people with allergies are at risk of developing anaphylaxis as some point in time.

A mild allergic reaction, such as chest tightness or dizziness, can take only one to two minutes to escalate into an anaphylaxis reaction after exposure or contact with the offending allergen.  Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include hives, swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat, difficulty swallowing or breathing, a drop in blood pressure, and increased heart rate, which makes the person feel dizzy which can possibly lead to loss of consciousness.  Usually, the faster the onset, the greater the likelihood that it will be more severe.

The best treatment for anaphylaxis is avoiding the allergen to which you are allergic, especially if you have had a previous serious reaction. Since there is no way to predict the severity of a reaction, and because anaphylaxis can progress so rapidly, it is important that if a person is suffering with anaphylaxis that they get immediate treatment with epinephrine the minute a serious reaction is suspected.  Epinephrine will cause blood pressure to raise, heart rate to increase, and breathing difficulties and swelling to subside. The two main organs that treatment is focused on in regards to anaphylaxis are the heart and lungs.

However, even though effective treatment is available, there remain numerous reports of death due to unrecognized symptoms of anaphylaxis and delayed treatment.  Therefore, it is essential that anyone with a history of anaphylaxis keep epinephrine auto-injectors, such as Epi-Pen, on hand at all times and to be prepared to use them whenever a reaction occurs, followed by emergency medical attention at either a clinic or a hospital.

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