Could You Spot the Symptoms of Anaphylaxis?

Would you know how to identify the symptoms of anaphylaxis and how to deal with what is a serious medical emergency?


Would you know how to identify the symptoms of anaphylaxis and how to deal with what is a serious medical emergency?

Allergies affect millions of people in the UK. In fact, statistics show that almost half of all British adults suffer from at least one allergy. Symptoms can range from the mildly uncomfortable to a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. This sudden and dangerous condition requires immediate emergency treatment. While many people are already aware that anaphylaxis could potentially occur as a result of an existing allergy, it can happen to anyone. So, it’s important for us all to be able to spot the signs and symptoms. In recognition of Allergy Awareness Week later this month, here are some of the things you need to know.

What is anaphylaxis?

A mild or moderate allergic reaction may cause some discomfort, such as itching, sneezing, wheezing or a rash. It might be irritating and uncomfortable, but it usually responds to antihistamines or passes in time and doesn’t require emergency treatment. Anaphylaxis, however, occurs when your body has an extreme allergic response to a particular trigger. When exposed to the substance you are allergic to, your immune system goes into overdrive, flooding the body with chemicals that can cause anaphylactic shock and, potentially, death. Common causes of anaphylaxis include:

  • Foods – e.g. peanuts, milk, eggs, fish and shellfish
  • Insect stings – wasp and bee stings are common culprits
  • Medications – anaesthesia drugs, antibiotics and contrast agents used in scans, for example
  • Latex – often found in things like rubber gloves, condoms, dummies and baby bottles

Obviously, if you have a known trigger, it’s sensible to avoid it at all costs, however sometimes exposure can happen by mistake. There’s also the possibility that something you have never had an allergic reaction to before could prompt anaphylaxis, so it pays to be aware of the symptoms.

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?

Symptoms can come on extremely quickly – often within seconds, but sometimes over minutes or a couple of hours – and should always be treated as a medical emergency. They include:

  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Loss of consciousness or collapse
  • Swelling of any area of the body
  • A sudden rash, flushing of the skin or itching
  • Difficulty swallowing or a swollen tongue
  • Confusion or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Clammy skin
  • Racing pulse

If you think someone is having an anaphylactic response, dial 999 and try to keep the person calm and comfortable. Also make sure to remove the trigger substance, where possible. Many people who are already aware that they have a severe allergy, or have experienced anaphylaxis in the past, carry an adrenaline injection pen. This can be used to help treat symptoms fast and should be administered straight away. Even if the pen is used and brings some relief, it’s always advisable to call can ambulance if you suspect anaphylaxis.

You can find further information on anaphylaxis here.

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