A quick note, thanks to the Mayo Clinic staff and their fine community education program.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause shock, trouble breathing and a sudden drop in blood pressure. It can occur within moments of someone’s exposure to an allergen (a specific allergy-producing substance) but there may be a delayed reaction. Sometimes anaphylaxis occurs with no apparent trigger. Whenever it happens, it’s really frightening for everybody there.
If someone you are with is having an allergic reaction with signs of anaphylaxis:
- Call 911 immediately, or your local emergency number.
- Have the person lie still on his or her back.
- Ask the person if he or she is carrying an epinephrine autoinjector to treat an allergic attack (such as EpiPen or Twinject)
- If the person indicates that he or she needs to use an autoinjector, offer to help inject the medication if necessary. This is most often done by pressing the autoinjector against the person’s thigh.
- Loosen tight clothing; cover the person with a towel or blanket.
- Do not give the person anything to drink.
- If there is vomiting or bleeding from the mouth, turn the person on his or her side to prevent choking.
- If there are no signs of breathing, coughing or movement, begin CPR. Do uninterrupted chest presses – about 100 every minute – until the paramedics arrive.
- Even if symptoms seem to improve, get emergency treatment. After anaphylaxis, symptoms sometimes recur. In nearly all cases, it is very important to be monitored in a hospital setting for several hours to be sure everything is under control.
Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Skin reactions: hives, itching, and flushed or pale skin.
- Swelling of the face, eyes, lips or throat.
- Constriction of airways – marked by wheezing and trouble breathing.
- A weak and rapid pulse.
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
- Dizziness, fainting or loss of consciousness.
If someone you are with is showing signs of anaphylaxis, seek emergency treatment at once. Do not wait for the symptoms to get better on their own. Untreated anaphylaxis can lead to death within half an hour in severe cases.
An antihistamine tablet, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is NOT enough to treat anaphylaxis. Benadryl is great for relieving allergy symptoms but works way too slowly to do any good in a full-blown allergic reaction.
Some common anaphylaxis triggers include:
- Insect stings from bees, yellow jackets, wasps, hornets and fire ants.
- Foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish (remember the impromptu dining scene in Hitch?).
If you or someone close has had any sort of severe allergic reaction in the past, it might be a good idea to ask a doctor to prescribe an epinephrine autoinjector to keep with you at all times. Better safe than….well, you know.