7 Things to Know About Anaphylaxis

  • Life-Threatening Allergy Attacks
    Most allergic reactions affect only one part of your body, such as your skin or lungs. But a severe type of allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, affects multiple parts of your body at once. Without treatment, this can be deadly. Anaphylaxis is a growing problem in the United States. Here's how to protect yourself.

  • 1. Anaphylaxis comes on suddenly.
    Know how to recognize anaphylaxis when you see it. Symptoms usually start within 5 to 30 minutes after coming into contact with something you're allergic to. Possible symptoms include itching, hives, swollen lips and tongue, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, trouble breathing, chest tightness, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, or fainting.

  • 2. Drug allergies may be to blame.
    Most medication side effects aren't caused by allergies. When allergic reactions occur, however, they're sometimes severe. Antibiotics, chemotherapy, and radiocontrast agents (special dyes used for imaging tests) are common culprits. Be sure to tell your doctor about any drug allergies you've experienced in the past.

  • 3. Food allergies can be severe.
    Foods can sometimes set off severe or even deadly allergy attacks. Common offenders include peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts or cashews), shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, and preservatives. If you have food allergies, ask your doctor for advice on reading ingredient lists and avoiding hidden sources of the food.

  • 4. Insect stings can turn deadly.
    An insect sting isn't fun for anyone. For some, however, the venom from bees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants can set off a potentially lethal allergic reaction. To reduce your risk of being stung, avoid wearing bright-colored clothes and perfumed products when outdoors. Cover your skin with long sleeves and pants.

  • 5. Latex allergy may be the culprit.
    Products made with natural latex may contain a protein that can trigger severe allergies in sensitive individuals. Possible sources of exposure include latex gloves, condoms, balloons, and rubber bands. Be sure to tell your doctor if you're allergic to latex. Choose products made with synthetic latex or non-latex materials.

  • 6. Even exercise can be a trigger.
    Rarely, exercise can set off anaphylaxis. But even people who are prone to exercise-induced anaphylaxis (EIA) don't react every time they're active. Some react only when they exercise within a few hours after eating a particular food. If you have a history of EIA, work with your doctor to develop a plan for exercising safely.

  • 7. Be prepared for anaphylaxis.
    Know what to do in an emergency. If you've had severe allergic reactions before, your doctor may recommend carrying autoinjectable epinephrine at all times. Then, if you ever start to develop anaphylaxis, give yourself an injection as directed and call 911 immediately. Prompt action could save your life.

7 Things to Know About Anaphylaxis
  1. Combined Effects of Food and Exercise on Anaphylaxis. C.W. Kim et al. Nutrition Research and Practice. 2013;7(5):347-51.
  2. Triggers and Treatment of Anaphylaxis: An Analysis of 4,000 Cases from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. M. Worm et al. Deutsches Arzteblatt International. 2014;111:367-75.
  3. Anaphylaxis. American Academy of Allergy, Allergy and Immunology, undated. http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/allergies/anaphylaxis.aspx
  4. Anaphylaxis: Tips to Remember. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, undated. http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/anaphylaxis.aspx
  5. Latex Allergy: Tips to Remember. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, undated. http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/Library/At-a-Glance/Latex-Allergy.aspx
  6. Medications and Drug Allergic Reactions: Tips to Remember. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, undated. http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/medications-and-drug-allergic-rea...
  7. Dying from Allergies: Fatal Anaphylaxis in the United States. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, September 30, 2014. http://www.aaaai.org/global/latest-research-summaries/Current-JACI-Research/fatal-anaphylaxis.aspx
  8. Anaphylaxis. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, October 28, 2014. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/allergicDiseases/understanding/Pages/Anaphylaxis.aspx
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Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 6
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