What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis, also referred to as an anaphylactic reaction or anaphylactic shock, is a severe and sometimes life-threatening allergic reaction. While it is not common, the severity of the reaction and its rapid onset, usually within a few minutes of exposure to the allergen, require immediate medical care.

Anaphylaxis is caused by your body’s severe immune reaction to an allergen, leading to the release of chemicals that cause swelling and other severe symptoms. These symptoms can lead to swelling of the tissues around the throat and face that are severe enough to cause breathing difficulty and a sudden drop in blood pressure.

Almost any allergen can cause anaphylaxis, and allergens that lead to anaphylaxis vary from person to person. These allergens can include foods, such as nuts or shellfish, insect or spider stings or bites, or medications, such as aspirin or penicillin.

Once your anaphylactic reaction has been treated, health care professionals can help to identify the allergen that caused your reaction by using a series of tests, such as skin exposure to small amounts of different allergens, or by reviewing dietary logs with you. Once the triggering allergen is identified, you can best prevent anaphylaxis by avoiding the allergen and carrying a portable epinephrine injection kit, if recommended, to treat any serious allergic reactions.

Anaphylaxis is a severe and life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience any of the symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as sudden swelling of the face, throat or lips; difficulty breathing; dizziness; hives or skin changes; and a fast heartbeat.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?

Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include severe swelling and a drop in blood pressure. These symptoms will typically occur within several minutes of exposure to the triggering allergen, although they may take up to a few hours to appear. These symptoms can be life-threatening and should be treated immediately.... Read more about anaphylaxissymptoms

CAUSES

What causes anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is caused when your body detects allergens you may be sensitized to, and then triggers an immune response to those allergens. This immune response prompts the release of chemicals, specifically histamine, that cause swelling of tissues in the area of the allergen, as well as a decrease in blood pressure, among other symptoms.... Read more about anaphylaxiscauses

TREATMENTS

How is anaphylaxis treated?

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and should be treated immediately (call 911). While waiting for medical professionals to arrive, lie down and elevate your feet. If you have an emergency anaphylaxis kit, inject yourself with epinephrine.... Read more about anaphylaxistreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Allergies and the Immune System