What is Anaphylaxis?
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What is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a type of allergic reaction, in which the immune system responds to otherwise harmless substances from the environment. Unlike other allergic reactions, anaphylaxis can kill. Reaction may begin within minutes or seconds of exposure, and rapidly progress to cause airway constriction, skin and intestinal irritation, and altered heart rhythms.


What is anaphylaxis? Anaphylaxis is a rare but severe allergic reaction. It occurs suddenly, can worsen quickly and can be deadly. It is a rapidly progressing, life-threatening allergic reaction.

Anaphylaxis is a type of allergic reaction, in which the immune system responds to otherwise harmless substances from the environment. Unlike other allergic reactions, anaphylaxis can kill. Reaction may begin within minutes or seconds of exposure, and rapidly progress to cause airway constriction, skin and intestinal irritation, and altered heart rhythms.

Anaphylaxis is a rare full-body allergic reaction caused by the release of histamine dilating the blood vessels and causing swelling throughout the body. The histamine release can cause a number of effects in the body, the most serious and severe cases including complete obstruction of the airways; a sudden drop in blood pressure; and shock and death.

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What is histamine? Histamine is the chemical that is found in and released by mast cells that can lead to certain symptoms depending on which part of the body where the histamine release occurs:

? Nose: runny nose

? Eyes: itchy, watery

? Throat: sore, scratchy

? Lung: wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and cough

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Like almost other allergic reactions, anaphylaxis is caused by the release of histamine and other chemicals from mast cells. Mast cells are a type of white blood cell that are found in large numbers in the tissues that regulate exchange with the environment: the airways, digestive system, and skin.

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On their surfaces, mast cells display antibodies called IgE (immunoglobulin type E). These antibodies are designed to detect environmental substances to which the immune system is sensitive. Substances from a genuinely threatening source, such as bacteria or viruses, are called antigens. A substance that most people tolerate well, but to which others have an allergic response, is called an allergen. When IgE antibodies bind with allergens, they cause the mast cell to release histamine and other chemicals, which spill out onto neighboring cells.

The interaction of these chemical substances with receptors on the surface of blood vessels causes the vessels to leak fluid into surrounding tissues, causing fluid accumulation, redness, and swelling. On the smooth muscle cells of the airways and digestive system, they cause constriction. On nerve endings, they increase sensitivity and cause itching.

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In anaphylaxis, the striking response is due both to extreme hypersensitivity to the allergen and its usually systemic distribution. Allergens are more likely to cause anaphylaxis if they are introduced directly into the circulatory system by injection. However, exposure by ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact can also cause anaphylaxis. In other cases, anaphylaxis may develop over time from less severe allergies.

Anaphylaxis is most often due to allergens in foods, drugs, and insect venom. Specific causes include:

? Fish, mollusk and shellfish

? Stings of bees, wasps, or hornets

? Papain from meat tenderizers

? Nuts and seeds

? Vaccines, including flu and measles vaccines

? Penicillin and Insulin

? Cephalosporins, Streptomycin and Gamma globulin

? Hormones (ACTH, thyroid-stimulating hormone)

? Aspirin and other NSAIDs

Note: Exposure to cold or exercise can trigger anaphylaxis in some individuals.

ACTH — Adrenocorticotropic hormone, a hormone normally produced by the pituituary gland, sometimes taken as a treatment for arthritis and other disorders.

Antibody — An immune system protein which binds to a substance from the environment.

NSAIDs — Non-steroid and anti-inflammatory drugs - including aspirin and ibuprofen.

Tracheostomy tube — A tube which is inserted into an incision in the trachea (tracheostomy) to relieve upper airway obstruction.

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? Urticaria (hives)

? Swelling and irritation of the tongue or mouth

? Swelling of the sinuses

? Difficulty breathing and Wheezing

? Cramping, vomiting, or diarrhea

? Anxiety or confusion

? Strong, very rapid heartbeat (palpitations)

? Loss of consciousness.

Note: Not all symptoms may be present.

Diagnosis: Anaphylaxis is diagnosed based on the rapid development of symptoms in response to a suspect allergen. Identification of the perpetuators may be done with RAST testing, a blood test that identifies IgE reactions to specific allergens. Skin testing may be done for less severe anaphylactic reactions.

Treatment: Emergency treatment of anaphylaxis involves injection of adrenaline (epinephrine) which constricts blood vessels and counteracts the effects of histamine. Oxygen may be given, as well as intravenous replacement fluids. Antihistamines may used for skin rashes, and aminophylline for bronchial constriction. If the upper airway is obstructed, placement of a breathing tube or tracheostomy tube may be needed.

The speediness of symptom development is an indication of the likely seriousness of reaction: the faster symptoms develop, the more severe the quality reaction. Prompt emergency medical attention and close monitoring reduces the likelihood of death.

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Prevention: Avoidance of the allergic trigger is the only reliable method of preventing anaphylaxis.

Preventing food allergies requires knowledge of the prepared foods or dishes in which the allergen is likely to be present and careful questioning about ingredients when dining out.

Use of a Medic-Alert tag detailing drug allergies is vital to prevent inadvertent administration during a medical emergency.

For insect allergies, this requires recognizing likely nest sites.

Know what to do if you unexpectedly come into contact with your trigger. Your doctor can help you make a detailed plan for emergency care.

If your doctor has prescribed an epinephrine shot, carry it with you at all times.

People prone to anaphylaxis should carry an "Epi-pen" or "Ana-kit," which contain an adrenaline dose ready for injection.

Teach your family and friends how to help you if you begin to have anaphylaxis and cannot help yourself.

Note: Anaphylaxis is always a medical emergency, and can be fatal if untreated.

I highly recommend you to read this article: https://knoji.com/what-your-allergy-relief-kit-should-include/





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Comments (9)

scary stuff.

Good article! I have anaphylactic reactions to certain foods and they are always scary. My Epi-pen is my best friend.

Great article. well researched, written and illustrated. Thanks Ron for your educational articles

Well researched and presented with good detail.

Ranked #2 in Allergies

Thanks everyone for the comments, much treasured.

A very helpful article with much useful information. Thank you.

Ranked #2 in Allergies

Thanks a lot Marion.

Ranked #22 in Allergies

well done and so easy to read

Ranked #2 in Allergies

Thanks Carol, much appreciated.