Serious Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis)

Serious Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis)

Lee este articuloSomeone with certain types of allergies (like food allergies) can be at risk for a sudden, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. If it happens to you, it can seem scary: You may start out feeling as if you are having a mild allergic reaction, then faint, have trouble breathing, or feel like your throat is closing, for example. But, with the right action, anaphylaxis can be treated.

Things to Know About Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis isn't common. But some people with allergies are more at risk than others. People with allergies to insect bites and stings, foods, or certain medications are most at risk for anaphylaxis. So if you have allergies (or a friend or family member does), it's good to know about anaphylaxis and be prepared.

Signs of Anaphylaxis

How can people tell if an allergic reaction is an emergency? One clue is if it happens in two or more of these body systems:

  1. skin
  2. gastrointestinal system
  3. respiratory system
  4. cardiovascular system

For example, someone may feel tightness or closing in the throat (respiratory system) together with a fast heartbeat (cardiovascular system).

Here are the most common signs that a person who has been exposed to an allergen might have anaphylaxis:

What to Do

Anaphylaxis requires immediate treatment. It can get worse very quickly. If you have a known allergy and start to have a reaction, use your epinephrine injector (if you have one), call 911, or immediately go to the nearest emergency room. Let friends know about your allergy so they can help you, if necessary.

What Is Epinephrine?

When someone has anaphylaxis, the body releases allergic chemicals into the blood. These chemicals cause the types of problems mentioned earlier — like a fast heartbeat and trouble speaking.

To work against this reaction, doctors usually want people with life-threatening allergies to carry a medication called epinephrine. Epinephrine works by relieving the symptoms of anaphylaxis. For example, it decreases swelling and raises blood pressure.

Epinephrine has to get into the bloodstream as fast as possible in an emergency. So it needs to be given as an injection. This isn't as scary as it sounds. There's no big needle and plunger involved. Instead, scientists have developed an auto injector about the size of a large pen that's easy to carry and use.

If you need to carry an epinephrine auto injector, your doctor will write you a prescription and show you how to use it.

When to Use Epinephrine

If your doctor prescribes an epinephrine auto injector, carry it with you at all times. With anaphylaxis, seconds count. Epinephrine can be a lifesaver.

If you start to have difficulty breathing, tightness in your throat, feel faint, or if you have allergic symptoms in more than one of the body systems mentioned earlier, give yourself epinephrine right away. Don't try to use your inhaler and wait to see what happens. Go straight for the epinephrine injector! That's especially true if you have food allergies and also have asthma.

After using an epinephrine auto injector, go to a hospital emergency room immediately. Sometimes a person has a second wave of symptoms (called a biphasic reaction). The hospital will observe you for at least 4 hours to be sure you are OK and give you additional treatment, if needed.

Serious allergies can sound scary, but they are treatable. So if you have an auto injector, carry it with you always. That tiny pinprick can mean the difference between life and death!

Reviewed by: Sheelagh M. Stewart, RN, MPH
Date reviewed: February 2012





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

© 1995-2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.





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.
OrganizationFood Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network FAAN is a nonprofit organization devoted to educating the public about food allergies. Call: (800) 929-4040
Web SiteFood Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network - Kids and Teens This website, operated by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, has separate sections for kids and teens.
Web SiteThe Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) The FAAN mession is to raise public awareness, provide advocacy and education and to advance research on behavior for all of those affected by food allergies and 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.
Allergy Testing Doctors use several different types of allergy tests, depending on what a person may be allergic to. Find out what to expect from allergy tests.
My Friend Has a Food Allergy. How Can I Help? Although food allergies are more common than ever, people who have them may feel different or embarrassed. A good friend can really help.
Nut and Peanut Allergy Peanuts are one of the most common allergy-causing foods, and they often find their way into things you wouldn't imagine. Learn the facts on living with a nut or peanut allergy.
911 Emergencies No one likes to think that something might happen to someone we care about. But whether we like it or not, emergencies do happen, and they require us to think and respond quickly.
Food Allergies Doctors are diagnosing more and more people with food allergies. Knowing what to expect and how to deal with food allergies can make a big difference in preventing serious illness.
iGrow iGrow
Sign up for our parent enewsletter