With anaphylaxis, the immune system alerts the body to the “invader,” and the person will suffer from tightened airways that can lead to more serious symptoms.
Anaphylaxis causes at least 400 deaths a year, and probably many more, as the condition is underreported. Anyone with allergies is at risk, and since the incidence of allergies is increasing, the risk for life-threatening anaphylaxis is, as well.
What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. The reaction occurs because the person comes in contact with something he or she is allergic to, like bee stings, insect bites, peanuts, eggs, medications, and pollen. The immune system alerts the body to the “invader,” and instead of just suffering from a stuffy nose, watery eyes, or hives, the person may experience all of these, but most importantly, will also suffer from tightened airways that can lead to more serious symptoms.
An anaphylactic reaction typically occurs quickly after exposure the allergen, but may sometimes be delayed for several hours. Symptoms may include:
- A rash or hives anywhere on the body
- Flushing of the skin
- Sense of impending doom
- Swelling of the throat and mouth
- Difficulty swallowing or speaking
- Difficulty breathing — asthma
- Changes in heart rate
- Sudden feeling of weakness
- Abdominal pain
What Causes Anaphylaxis?
The allergen causes the anaphylactic reaction, leading the immune system to suddenly release chemicals substances, including histamine, that cause all the symptoms above. The reaction may be to a very small amount of an allergen that the person is extremely allergic to, or may be to a buildup of common allergens like pollen, weeds, and grasses, that overwhelm the body’s system. Some people are also affected by exercise-induced allergic reactions, and may experience an anaphylactic reaction in response to an allergen they encounter while exercising.
Who Is Most at Risk?
Those most at risk for an anaphylactic reaction include:
- Those who suffer from allergies
- Those who are extremely allergic to something (foods, pollen, drugs)
- Those who have suffered an anaphylactic reaction in the past
- Those who have asthma
- Those who have a family history of anaphylaxis
What The Study Found
For this recent study, researchers examined nearly 12,000 people who had gone to the emergency room or the hospital between 2002–2008 because of an anaphylactic reaction. They discovered that 25 percent of those people experienced a severe anaphylactic reaction, which required hospitalization or included heart or lung failure. This particular group was less likely to have filled out a prescription for life-threatening epinephrine, or to have visited with an allergist in the previous year. (Patients with “EPI-pens’ that have epinephrine in them can use them to tame an anaphylactic reaction.)
“Allergic people at risk should always carry two doses of epinephrine and regularly see an allergist to prevent severe allergic reactions that require hospitalization,” said Sunday Clark, ScD, lead author of the study.
Take Allergies Seriously
Even if you’ve never had an anaphylactic re- action in the past, if you have allergies, you are still at risk. Seeing an allergist can increase your odds of managing your allergies so you don’t have a severe reaction, and can also help prepare you if you do.
Though parents of children with food allergies usually take the proper precautions, this study involved adults. Most were not allergic to food, but were more likely to suffer from reactions to bee stings. The results showed that even those with occasional allergies need to treat them seriously.