Allergic Reaction: Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction. It can happen with no warning. If you have allergies, it’s important to talk about them with your healthcare provider. He or she can help you understand if you’re at risk for an extreme reaction. If you are at risk, you will need to learn how to recognize and deal with it. If you ever have one of these reactions, you will need treatment right away.


Your immune system helps your body fight off germs. But sometimes your immune system will react to certain common substances that are not germs. This kind of substance is called an allergen.

When an allergen comes into contact with the body, the immune system releases certain chemicals. The chemicals include histamines and tryptase. These are what cause allergy symptoms. Sometimes allergy symptoms are mild. For example, you might just get a runny nose and itchy eyes. If your symptoms are worse, you might get hives. Anaphylaxis is the worst type of allergic reaction that you can have. It can include trouble breathing, a racing heart, swelling, and more. The most common causes of anaphylaxis are certain foods, medications, insect stings, and latex. Foods that commonly cause anaphylaxis are nuts, seafood, milk, eggs, wheat, and soy. People who have asthma are more likely to experience anaphylaxis.


Some of the symptoms you might get with anaphylaxis include:

  • Runny nose

  • Hives

  • A swollen tongue

  • Wheezing

  • Difficulty breathing

  • A racing heart

  • Nausea

  • Belly cramps

  • Fainting, and

  • Feelings of anxiety

Anaphylaxis can come on suddenly. It may happen only a few minutes after exposure to an allergen. It can also happen several hours later.

Anaphylaxis is a medical emer gency. If untreated, it can lead to death.


Your symptoms and medical history may be enough for your healthcare provider to tell that you have anaphylaxis.

Blood tests may be done in some cases.

If you have not had allergy tests, your healthcare provider might do them when you feel better. These tests can help find the cause of your anaphylaxis. Allergy test results can help you know what to avoid in the future.


Anaphylaxis is an emergency. Tell someone near you to call 9-1-1 if you think you might be having anaphylaxis.

A hormone called epinephrine is an important part of treatment. It’s usually given as a shot. You should use it as soon as possible. It will help to quickly control your symptoms. Your healthcare provider will tell you how and when to use it and help you make an anaphylaxis action plan.

If you take beta-blockers for heart disease, you may need other medicines to help epinephrine work better.

Lying down with your legs up may help you feel better. Intravenous, or I-V, fluids may be pumped into your body. You may also be given oxygen to help you breathe. Sometimes, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or C-P-R, may be needed.

Other medications you might take include antihistamines. These block histamines and can help relieve symptoms like hives. Bronchodilators can help if you’re wheezing or coughing. Corticosteroids can help prevent anaphylaxis from happening again within a few hours. Your healthcare provider might also recommend allergy shots. These can make you less sensitive to some triggers.

Things to Remember

Anaphylaxis is an emergency.

Epinephrine is used to treat anaphylaxis quickly.

If you’re concerned about anaphylaxis, talk with your provider. Working with your provider is the best way to get answers and come up with a treatment plan.

What We Have Learned

  1. Most people have anaphylaxis from their first exposure to an allergen. True or False?
    The answer is false. It can take time to develop an allergic reaction to a certain substance.

  2. Anaphylaxis not a serious condition. True or False?
    The answer is false. Anaphylaxis can cause death if not treated.

  3. Epinephrine is the best way to quickly treat anaphylaxis symptoms. True or false?
    The answer is true. An injection of epinephrine is given as soon as possible. If you are at risk for anaphylaxis, you may need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector with you.