Anaphylaxis, the Life-Threatening Allergic Reaction

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction to specific triggers such as foods, medications, insect venom, or latex. Recognizing and treating anaphylaxis early is crucial since an allergic reaction can become an anaphylactic reaction in only a few minutes.

In a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis, the body is overwhelmed by its own immune response. Intravenous medications and chemicals are often the cause of severe anaphylaxis, as well as wasps, bees, and ants stings. This is because the allergen usually reaches the bloodstream very quickly, and circulates widely throughout the body.

If the reaction worsens, multiple body systems are affected, including the cardiovascular, respiratory, GI and skin. Patients can develop hives or urticaria, which can be very itchy as fluid shifts into the sublayers of the skin. As in other disease processes, the faster anaphylaxis sets in, the less likely the body can compensate and the more likely it will be fatal. Treatment must occur quickly in the form of a rapid, aggressive support of the airway, breathing and circulatory status of the patient, and administering epinephrine as early as possible.

It’s important to note that the beneficial effects of epinephrine, while quick, are short lived. Epinephrine is rapidly broken down by the body, therefore EMS providers may need to administer a second dose of epinephrine while waiting for the longer-lasting effects of diphenhydramine or corticosteroids to begin.

In very severe cases of anaphylaxis, massive swelling of the airway’s soft tissue may require immediate transport by EMS providers to the closest receiving facility for surgical intervention. Paramedics may perform a needle or surgical cricothyrotomy to preserve the airway if pharmacologic interventions are not successful.

If you have any questions regarding severe allergy symptoms and/or treatment, feel free to give my office a call, 866-632-5537.

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