A to Z: Anaphylaxis

A to Z: Anaphylaxis

A to Z: Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a sudden, life-threatening reaction that is usually caused by an allergy. The most common allergens (things that cause a reaction) are foods, medications, and insect stings.

More to Know

Anaphylaxis does not occur the first time someone comes in contact with an allergen. During the first exposure, the person's immune system, which fights infections and disease, responds to the allergen as if it were a threat. When exposed to the allergen again, the person's body tries to "defend" itself by releasing chemicals into the blood that cause inflammation throughout the body and the severe allergic symptoms known as anaphylaxis.

Common anaphylaxis symptoms are itchy or red skin, swelling, trouble breathing, hoarseness, a runny or stuffed nose, throwing up, a fast heartbeat, or passing out. If someone has anaphylaxis more than once, signs may change each time.

Treatment for anaphylaxis includes an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) right away. Other medications like prednisone (a steroid) and antihistamines treat the reaction and usually will be continued for a few days. With prompt treatment, an episode usually ends within an hour, but some can last longer. Sometimes symptoms return without another exposure to the allergen, usually within 10 hours but sometimes up to 3 days later.

epinephrine injection illustration

Keep in Mind

Anaphylaxis can be life threatening, so anyone at risk for it (and all caretakers) should know what to do in an emergency.





Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2015 KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com





Bookmark and Share

Related Resources
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.
OrganizationAmerican College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The ACAAI is an organization of allergists-immunologists and health professionals dedicated to quality patient care. Contact them at: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
85 W. Algonquin Road
Suite 550 Arlington Heights, IL 60005
(800) 842-7777
OrganizationFood Allergy Research and Education (FARE) Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) works on behalf of the 15 million Americans with food allergies, including all those at risk for life-threatening anaphylaxis.
Related Articles
Babysitting: Dealing With Allergic Reactions What should you do if a child you're babysitting has an allergic reaction? Our tip sheet can help you be prepared.
Serious Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis) Kids with severe allergies can be at risk for a sudden, serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. The good news is it can be prevented and treated.
Nut and Peanut Allergy If your child is allergic to nuts or peanuts, it's essential to learn what foods might contain them and how to avoid them.
Food Allergies and Food Sensitivities Find more than 30 articles in English and Spanish about all aspects of food allergies in children.
Food Allergies Struggling with strawberries? Petrified of peanuts? Sorry you ate shellfish? Maybe you have a food allergy. Find out more in this article for kids.
Learning About Allergies During an allergic reaction, your body's immune system goes into overdrive. Find out more in this article for kids.
Five Ways to Prepare for an Allergy Emergency Being prepared for an allergy emergency will help you, your child, and other caregivers respond in the event of a serious reaction.
5 Ways to Be Prepared for an Allergy Emergency Quick action is essential during a serious allergic reaction. It helps to remind yourself of action steps so they become second nature if there's an emergency. Here's what to do.
Babysitting: Dealing With Bug Bites and Stings What should you do if a child you're babysitting is bitten or stung? Our tip sheet can help you be prepared.
Bug Bites and Stings In most cases, bug bites and stings are just nuisances. But in some cases, they can cause infections and allergic reactions. It's important to know the signs, and when to get medical attention.
Bug Bites and Stings Generally, insect bites and stings are harmless. Find out how to keep pests from ruining your fun.
What to Do When You're Bugged by Bugs Ugh. Bugs. They're cool, but they also can ruin your day by stinging or biting you. Find out how to handle them in this article.
Nut and Peanut Allergy A growing number of kids are allergic to nuts and peanuts. Find out more about this problem and how allergic kids can stay healthy.
What's the Difference Between a Food Allergy and a Food Intolerance? Food allergies and food intolerances, like lactose intolerance, are not the same. Find out more.
Food Allergies Food allergies can cause serious and even deadly reactions in kids, so it's important to know how to feed a child with food allergies and to prevent reactions.
Insect Sting Allergy Insect sting allergies can cause serious reactions. Find out how to keep kids safe.
Serious Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis) A person with severe allergies can be at risk for a sudden, serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This reaction can seem scary, but the good news is it can be treated.
Going to School With Food Allergies With preparation and education, a child with a food allergy can stay safe at school.
Food Allergies: How to Cope With food allergies, preventing a reaction means avoiding that food entirely. But sometimes allergens can be hidden in places you don't expect. Here are tips on living with a food allergy.
All About Allergies Up to 50 million Americans, including millions of kids, have an allergy. Find out how allergies are diagnosed and how to keep them under control.
First Aid: Allergic Reactions Although most allergic reactions aren't serious, severe reactions can be life-threatening and can require immediate medical attention.
iGrow iGrow
Sign up for our parent enewsletter