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Anaphylaxis: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a serious medical condition which may be potentially fatal in some instances. The human body has an exquisite defence mechanism which wards off any foreign invading agent which may be considered harmful to one’s body. This function is carried out by the immune system of the body. Sometimes the human body may become oversensitive to certain substances which may be otherwise harmless. Such substances are termed as ‘allergens’ and this reaction as ‘allergic reaction’. Sometimes when this allergic reaction is sudden and severe affecting the whole body, it is called anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis: Incidence, age and sex

Anaphylaxis is not a very uncommon occurrence. It may affect any individual irrespective of age and gender.

Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis: Diagnosis

The clinical features of anaphylaxis are non-specific. They may not be localised at the site of exposure/contact, but may affect the whole body, occurring within minutes of exposure to the offending allergen. The clinical symptoms may vary from simple skin rash and itching to gastro-intestinal features like vomiting, loose stools and stomach cramps. Sometimes air passages may get narrowed, resulting in difficulty in breathing. Sudden drop in blood pressure may cause giddiness. An individual may also have hoarseness of voice and clogging of the throat. Angioedema may be seen in some instances of anaphylaxis in which swelling of the eyes, the lips, the hands and the feet may be seen.

Certain blood tests may be done in such individuals to ascertain the occurrence of anaphylaxis and also identify the causative allergen.

Causes and prevention of anaphylaxis

Several allergens may trigger this phenomenon of anaphylaxis. Certain foods like almonds, peanuts, egg and shellfish are common allergens causing anaphylaxis in certain individuals. Penicillin, a common antibiotic medication may also trigger a severe allergic response. Bee sting and wasps have also been documented to elicit anaphylaxis.

Individuals with history of anaphylaxis should be careful in avoiding the offending allergen in future. Moreover, special care should be taken while introducing new food product to toddlers, especially food products which are commonly allergic.

Anaphylaxis: Complications

Anaphylaxis may end up in anaphylactic shock in absence of immediate medical attention. Anaphylactic shock includes loss of consciousness following sudden and significant drop in blood pressure. This may result in heart failure in rare instances. Obstruction of the airways is another life-threatening complication of anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis: Treatment

Immediate medical attention is the key to the treatment of anaphylaxis. Injectible epinephrine is the medication of choice in severe cases of anaphylaxis. The patient usually shows rapid recovery following epinephrine. Individuals with prior history of anaphylaxis are recommended to carry an epinephrine injection kit with them always. Mild symptoms of anaphylaxis may respond well with steroids and anti-allergic medications like anti-histamines.