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The Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Anaphylactic Shock

Anaphylactic shock is a severe allergic reaction that is life threatening and can be caused by foods, insect stings, chemicals and other products.

Anaphylactic shock can be a life threatening situation and you should know the causes, symptoms and treatment for it. Anaphylactic shock is an allergic reaction and this allergic reaction can be caused by numerous allergens, foods or toxins. During the summer, many of us associate anaphylactic shock with bee stings, but you can have a severe allergic reaction to almost anything and everyone is different. You can even have a severe allergic reaction to something one time that you never had an allergic reaction to before.

The Causes of Anaphylactic Shock or Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is another name for anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock is a severe total body allergic reaction. This severe allergic reaction can be caused by the following:

  • Insect bites and stings from bees, yellow jackets, wasps, hornets and ants
  • Nuts like peanuts, walnut, cashew, Brazil, hazel and almonds
  • Wheat
  • Strawberries
  • Soy products
  • Dairy products and eggs
  • Shellfish like lobster and shrimp
  • Certain medications, with the most common being penicillin, aspirin, morphine, x-ray dyes, anti-arthritis drugs and anesthetics
  • Latex products
  • Chemicals
  • Exercise can also provoke anaphylactic reaction if the exercise is done after eating an allergy causing food.
  • And many other chemical or substance that might cause an allergic reaction in a person.
  • Some people might have an anaphylactic reaction without any apparent cause or the cause is never found.

Some people are so allergic to peanuts, that even a small amount of peanut dust can cause them to have a severe allergic reaction and anaphylactic shock.

A person will not always have an allergic reaction to the same substance or toxin. If you are stung by a bee and do not have an allergic reaction, this does not mean that the next time you are stung you will not have an allergic reaction.

For example, if you are stung by a bee the first time, the body’s immune system can become sensitized to the toxin. The next time you are stung, you could have a severe allergic reaction. Or it might not bother you at all.

Symptoms of Anaphylactic Shock

The symptoms of anaphylactic shock can start within minutes or in a couple of hours after being exposed to the substance that causes your allergic reaction.

An allergic reaction occurs when cells and tissues in the body release histamine. Histamine is a chemical that is important to our well-being [1]. When a foreign particle enters our body, our immune system causes histamine to be released. Usually an allergic reaction will cause swelling, a stuffy nose, watery eyes or a small rash. Anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock is a severe allergic reaction that involves the entire body.

The symptoms of anaphylactic shock can include any one of the following within minutes to a couple of hours of exposure to a substance, but not all have to be present for it to be anaphylactic shock.

  • Hives or itchiness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Lips, tongue and or throat swelling
  • A flush or warm feeling on the face or other parts of your body
  • Wheezing or a high pitched sound when breathing
  • Palpitations
  • The inside and or back of your throat itching
  • The palms becoming red and swollen
  • Light headed or dizziness
  • Skin redness or body rash
  • Slurred speech
  • Gastrointestinal problems like vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps
  • Low blood pressure

Symptoms can start slow and continue to worsen. In some cases, the symptoms can go away and return one to three hours later; this is known as a biphasic reaction. If this does occur, when the symptoms return, it will usually affect the respiratory tract and could be more severe than the first time the symptoms occurred.

Anaphylactic Shock is an Emergency Situation

If you suspect you are having a severe allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock, you should call an ambulance or 911. If you are with someone who is having anaphylactic shock, there are some things you can do after calling 911.

  • Calm and reassure the person
  • If the allergic reaction was caused by a bee sting, use a credit card or fingernail to scrap the stinger out. Do not use anything like tweezers since pinching the stinger can cause more venom to be released.
  • If the person that is having the allergic reaction has medicine for this condition, help the person take the medication. If a person has a known allergy, they might have a medical bracelet or card that states this and they carry an Epi Pen with them.

Do Not

  • Do not put a pillow under the persons head if they are having trouble breathing as this can make the problem worse.
  • If this person has taken medication for the anaphylactic shock or allergic reaction, do not assume this will provide a complete recovery; the person should still be taken to an emergency room.
  • Do not give the person anything orally, especially if they have a swollen throat, lips or tongue since this can cause choking. Benadryl liquid can be given if directed to.

Treatment for Anaphylactic Shock

If treatment is given quickly, the person should recover without any problems. The doctors and nurses will first give the patient epinephrine which will diminish the allergic reaction causing the anaphylactic shock. If needed, they will give medication and intravenous drips to stabilize the heart and circulatory system.

Once the anaphylactic shock has been alleviated, the patient should avoid drinking alcohol and taking hot baths or showers for at least 24 hours to avoid any recurrence of low blood pressure.

First Aid Kit and Prevention of Anaphylactic Shock

Needless to say, once you find out what caused the allergic reaction, you need to avoid that food or product. If the doctors do not know what caused the allergic reaction, you might be referred to an allergy expert to find out.

If it is found you do have a serious allergy to some food or product, your doctor could prescribe an EpiPen that you should carry with you and also put in your first-aid kit. An EpiPen is an autoinjector with a measured dose of epinephrine that you can use on yourself if ever needed.

My Personal Experience with Anaphylactic Shock

I went through having anaphylactic shock years ago. I sat down on a carpet and two to three hours later I started to feel flush and my face was tingling. This progressed to my lips, throat and tongue swelling to the point I couldn’t swallow.

At the emergency room, the first thing the doctors did was check me for insect bites or stings, which they didn’t find. They gave me adrenaline or epinephrine to stop the allergic reaction. Thankfully this worked quickly. The doctors never figured out what caused my anaphylactic shock. Talking with others about what happened; someone told me the same thing happened to him with this same product. Apparently, the carpet was cleaned and treated with a product called Carpet Fresh. When I sat on the carpet, this product got onto my hands and I touched my face.

This shows how just about anything can cause a person to have an allergic reaction severe enough to cause anaphylactic shock. But you don’t have to live your life worrying about anaphylactic shock since it is not that common, just be aware of it.

Copyright © July 2011 Sam Montana

Resources

[1] All about histamine

FAAN – The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network

National Institute of Health – Medline

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Comments (15)

Good point about not putting a pillow behind the persons head because that would be a natural reaction.

Ranked #22 in Allergies

good article, this is something we all need to know

Ranked #2 in Allergies

Great awareness on this life threatening allergic reaction.

A very valuable health article for education to know in any event of an emergency someone might have in life. voted up.

An important and very helpful article, Sam. Well done. I was stung by a wasp for the first time two years ago, and within 15 minutes my speech was slurred, I felt weak and shaky, and my arm, face and neck began to swell and tingle. Fortunately, I was able to get medical attention soon. Thank you for sharing your own experience and wisdom on this subject.

Thank you for sharing Sam. Something more to be on the watch for.

Thanks for sharing this outstanding information.

Really good stuff Sam...read it again.

Ranked #3 in Allergies

This is very informative and helpful. I have food allergies and have a history of anaphylactic shock.

No doubt an excellent article covering anaphylactic shock!

Ranked #8 in Allergies

I am a clinic aide at a middle school and every year I have probably a dozen kids with epi-pens in the clinic. Thankfully I have never had to use one but the procedure is always to call 911 after an epi-pen has been used even if the student responds positively. Very good resource Sam.

Ranked #1 in Allergies

Hi Judith. Yes that was something I learned when I researched this. Never assume just because someone was given medication like an Epi-pen that they will or have recovered. Always call 911 or go to the emergency room. Judith, what is the main reason these kids have to carry an Epi-pen, what type of allergies do most have?

Ranked #8 in Allergies

The main allergies are peanuts, tree nuts, bee stings and I had one girl that was allergic to the cold. If it was too cold she would start to wheeze. Other ones were asthma and those kids usually have both an inhaler and an epi-pen. We have some kids who self carry but most of them have their stuff in the clinic and I keep a walkie on at all times. We have some kids that have certain food allergies but those usually cause intestinal reactions (except shell fish which is really dangerous and can cause anaphylaxis really quickly)

An excellent and informative article. Two of my three children have allergies- one to eggs and one to penicillin. My third is only three months old so time will tell. This is advice that every parent should haveto preparethem in the eventuality that their child has a reaction. Look forward to reading more of your work. Voted up. Liz x

Excellent article Sam!  I have allergies and am always worried about this.

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