According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), one in as few as every 20 Americans experience anaphylaxis or a life-threatening systemic allergic reaction. Many of these people are unprepared, unaware of the danger, and delay treatment. Unfortunately, delaying treatment is often the difference between life and death for anaphylaxis sufferers.
Anaphylaxis is a severe systemic or whole-body allergic reaction that can be caused by a variety of triggers, including foods, medicines, and even insect stings. The symptoms of anaphylaxis are the same as an allergic reaction, but have the potential to be life-threatening:
- Eyes: Itchy, watery, red eyes
- Skin: Itching, rash or hives, flushing
- Nose: Runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing
- Throat and Mouth: Itchy mouth/throat, swelling of the lips/tongue/throat
- Lungs: Difficulty breathing, cough, wheezing, chest tightness
- Heart: Fast pulse, low blood pressure
- Stomach and Intestines: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain
- Brain and Nervous system: Confusion, weakness, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, sense of impending doom
- Other: Uterine cramps
- Death, in severe cases
When any of the symptoms during an allergic reaction become severe, especially if 2 or more body systems are involved, it is considered anaphylaxis. While that might seem simple, identifying the threshold between a milder allergic reaction and anaphylaxis can even be difficult for people who have suffered an anaphylactic episode in the past.
Anaphylaxis is always a medical emergency. If you know you have severe allergies, it is crucial to be prepared to treat an anaphylactic episode quickly with an epinephrine autoinjector (commonly known as an EpiPen) and then seek emergency medical attention immediately. Two doses of epinephrine may be required to control severe reactions. If you do not have epinephrine available, call an ambulance or go to the emergency room immediately.
While waiting for help, be sure to:
- Avoid eating or drinking
- If you are suffering from a reaction due to a sting, avoid pulling out the stinger with tweezers. Instead, scrape it off with a credit card or fingernail.
- Lie down with your feet elevated about 12 inches
- Stay warm (this prevents shock)
- Avoid using a pillow if you are having trouble breathing
At the emergency room, plan for at least a four-hour stay. You will be treated with epinephrine upon arrival if you did not have any at home. Monitoring for the return of symptoms, a condition known as biphasic anaphylaxis, is the priority of treatment.
Prevention is Key
Prevention is the best way to deal with severe allergies. Follow these prevention strategies to avoid anaphylaxis altogether:
- Know and avoid your triggers
- Keep 2 doses of epinephrine with you at all times
- Inform those around you of your condition
- Wear a medical ID at all times
- See an allergy specialist regularly
- Educate yourself about allergies and anaphylaxis
If you live in the Tampa area and suffer from severe allergies, stop letting your allergies keep you indoors or away from the things you love. Trust our team of allergy specialists at Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Associates of Tampa Bay to provide you with treatment and prevention strategies to keep you as healthy and symptom-free as possible. Start living your best life in the Sunshine State by calling (813) 971-9743 or setting up an appointment online at one of our five Tampa Bay locations.