Anaphylaxis (pronounced ana-fill-axis) is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may even cause death.

Common causes of anaphylaxis include food, medication, latex, and bee/ wasp / insect stings. Food allergy is believed to be the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting. The CDC reported that food allergies result in over 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year among children.

Who’s at risk for having an anaphylactic reaction?

Anyone with a previous history of anaphylactic reactions is at risk for having another severe reaction. Also at risk are those with a personal or family history of allergic conditions, such as asthma, eczema, or hay fever.

Individuals who have asthma in addition to food allergies may be at increased risk for having a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction to food.

A study showed that teens with food allergy and asthma appear to be at the highest risk for a reaction, because they are more likely to take risks when away from home, are less likely to carry medications, and may ignore or not recognize symptoms.

What are the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction?

An anaphylactic reaction may begin with a tingling sensation, itching, or a metallic taste in the mouth. Other symptoms can include hives, a sensation of warmth, wheezing or other difficulty breathing, coughing, swelling of the mouth and throat area, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, a drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. These symptoms may begin within several minutes to two hours after exposure to the allergen, but life-threatening reactions may get worse over a period of several hours.

In some reactions, the symptoms go away, only to return one to three hours later. This is called a “biphasic reaction.” Often these second-phase symptoms occur in the respiratory tract and may be more severe than the first-phase symptoms. Studies suggest that biphasic reactions occur in about 20% of anaphylactic reactions.

Do I have anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is highly likely to be occurring when any ONE of the following happens within minutes to hours after ingestion of the food allergen:

1. A person has skin symptoms or swollen lips and either :

  • Difficulty breathing, or
  • Reduced blood pressure (e.g., pale, weak pulse, confusion, loss of consciousness)

2. A person was exposed to a suspected allergen, and two or more of the following occur:

  • Skin symptoms or swollen lips
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e., vomiting, diarrhea, or cramping)

3. A person was exposed to a known allergen, and experiences:

  • reduced blood pressure

How You Can Protect Yourself

  • Follow-up with your doctor or allergist if you’ve had a severe reaction.
  • If you’ve been prescribed an auto-injector (i.e., EpiPen) carry it at all times. Always arrange to get emergency care (CALL 911).
  • Educate others about your allergy. Teach them what you need to avoid, the symptoms of an allergic reaction, and how they can help during an allergic emergency.
  • Teach yourself and others how to use an epinephrine auto-injector. Practice until it becomes second nature.
  • Wear medical identification jewelry noting your allergy.
  • CALL 911.