Medical emergency: Anaphylaxis

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Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that is typically instigated by triggers such as insect bites or stings, certain foods, latex and medications.

Almost half of anaphylaxis cases are triggered by certain foods such as tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, fish, eggs and cow’s milk. Even insect bites and stings from hornets, bees, wasps, fire ants and yellow jackets are responsible for causing a high number of emergency-related visits to the hospital on a yearly basis.

Certain medications can also trigger anaphylaxis such as ibuprofen, aspirin, antibiotics and anesthetics. Those who experienced one or more mild episodes of anaphylaxis might face the risk for severe episodes in the future. Repeated exposure to allergens such as latex can also increase the risk for developing this severe reaction.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis

The symptoms of anaphylaxis can develop abruptly and in some cases, they manifest within minutes or hours after exposure to the allergen. In some circumstances, the symptoms tend to abate and then return hours after. Remember that the most dangerous symptoms of anaphylaxis affect the respiratory system or cardiovascular system. The specific symptoms to watch out for include the following:

Difficulty breathing due to the constriction of the airways and throat swelling
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing due to the constriction of the airways and throat swelling
  • Confusion
  • Unusual breathing sounds
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Slurred speech
  • Swelling of the throat, tongue and nasal passages
  • Reddening of the skin
  • Edema that is localized
  • Redness or itchiness on the lips, skin, eyelids or other parts of the body
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping
  • Bluish-tinged skin particularly the nail beds or lips
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Fainting, dizziness or loss of consciousness that can lead to shock and even heart failure

What should you do during anaphylaxis?

If an individual is suspected with anaphylaxis, you have to call for emergency assistance right away. While waiting for the emergency team to arrive on the scene, the following measures must be performed.

  • If the individual is unconscious, lay him/her flat on the ground and elevate the feet using a pillow or cushion.
  • If an injectable epinephrine (EpiPen) is available, you have to administer a shot. Remember that you can assist an individual experiencing an anaphylactic reaction by administering a shot as long as you received proper training. In addition, check for a medical tag, necklace or bracelet that may identify the anaphylactic triggers.
  • Family, friends and caregivers of the individual with an allergy must be given a list of the emergency contacts and the allergy triggers as well as a plan when dealing with an allergic emergency.
  • Individuals who experienced an allergic reaction must schedule an appointment with a doctor. In doing so, the potential causes will be identified and a plan can be developed in safeguarding against possible future attacks.
  • In case the trigger of anaphylaxis is a particular medication, the substance must be avoided at all costs in the future.

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