Recognizing and Treating Anaphylaxis

Recognizing and Treating Anaphylaxis

Recognizing and treating anaphylaxis is important during an allergic reaction.

Anaphylaxis is defined as a severe, life-threatening allergic response that may be characterized by symptoms such as lowered blood pressure, wheezing, vomiting or diarrhea, and swelling and hives.

For those who have experienced anaphylaxis, it is something they know well and will never forget. For those who have not the common question is, "How do I know it is anaphylaxis?"

Allergists and other medical professionals have diagnostic tools at their disposal (such as blood pressure monitors) for recognizing and treating anaphylaxis. Most allergic individuals, however, will not know if they have lowered blood pressure or if their vomiting, diarrhea, and/or hives is anaphylaxis or a less severe reaction.

Learn About Anaphylaxis

Most allergists will give their patients a plan as to when to administer the EpiPen, a portable, pen-like injection of epinephrine. If you have received such advice from your allergist, you should follow it. If you have not, you should ask. All allergies and allergic individuals are different. The plan you outline with your allergist will be based on your history of reactions. This article is not meant to replace what your allergist has told you, but to share what many allergists feel is the proper protocol.

Many agree that obvious wheezing, difficulty breathing, and blue lips, among other severe symptoms warrant the EpiPen immediately. Less severe symptoms must be considered on a case by case basis.

Some allergists believe that single system reactions such as hives only, itchy eyes only, etc. warrant a wait-and-see approach but that multiple systemic reactions such as hives and itchy mouth warrant use of the EpiPen.

All reactions, no matter how small, should be watched closely for potential delayed reactions or symptoms.

Treating Anaphylaxis with Anti-histamines

Many allergic individuals use an anti-histamine for their food allergic reactions. When an individual consumes an allergen, the immune system recognizes the allergen as an invader and produces histamines. In theory an anti-histamine will help in combating some of the histamines produced but will not prevent a life threatening reaction and possibly will only delay one.

That's not to say that anti-histamines can't be used successfully for some mild situations. Single-system reactions that appear to be mild may resolve with an anti-histamine. However, remember that the allergic individual must be watched as the reaction could come back when the anti-histamine wears off.

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photo by H. Valdez

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