Anaphylactic Shock: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments

Anaphylactic shock is a rare but severe allergic reaction that can be deadly if you don’t treat it right away. It’s most often caused by an allergy to food, insect bites, or certain medications.

A shot of a drug called epinephrine is needed immediately, and you should call 911 for emergency medical help.

Anaphylaxis shock is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition caused by an allergic reaction.

The terms “anaphylaxis” and “anaphylactic shock” are often used to mean the same thing. They both refer to a severe allergic reaction. Shock is when your blood pressure drops so low that your cells (and organs) don’t get enough oxygen.


Anaphylactic Shock



Anaphylactic Shock: Symptoms

You typically notice the first symptoms within 15 minutes of coming into contact with the thing you’re allergic to. They may start out mild, like a runny nose or an uneasy feeling. But they can get much worse very fast. Some typical symptoms include:

  • Swelling of your mouth
  • Tight feeling in your throat and difficulty breathing
  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Rapid heartbeat

Early warning signs that a person may be going into anaphylactic shock include:

  • turning blue or white
  • swelling of lips or face
  • grating, grainy cough
  • wheezing
  • breathing problems
  • hives, particularly if over several areas

In severe cases, people collapse, stop breathing, and lose consciousness in just a couple of minutes.


Anaphylactic Shock: Typical Triggers

The most common causes of an anaphylactic reaction include:

  • Foods, especially nuts and shellfish
  • Latex, found in many disposable gloves, syringes, and adhesive tapes
  • Medications, including penicillin and aspirin
  • Insect stings

Usually, you have to come into contact with a trigger more than once before you have a severe allergy to it.

Even a mild allergic reaction can lead to more serious ones in the future. Talk to your allergist or primary care doctor about whether you should keep a shot of epinephrine handy at all times.


Anaphylactic Shock: Treatments

An epinephrine injector is a primary treatment for people experiencing anaphylaxis.

Also called an EpiPen, these injectors carry a single dose of the hormone epinephrine.

Epinephrine reverses the action of substances produced during the allergic reaction. It can also prevent the body from going into shock or reverse the process of shock if it has already started.

The EpiPen is usually injected directly into the thigh and is only available with a prescription from a doctor.

The best prevention,, however, is to avoid your triggers. Since you may not be able to do that all the time, make sure you have a plan to spot and treat symptoms of anaphylaxis right away. Your primary care doctor or allergist can help you with this.

It’s a good idea to wear a medical alert bracelet to let people know about your allergy in case you’re not able to talk. You also should tell your friends and family so they can help you in an emergency. Be sure they know:

  • Your allergy trigger(s)
  • Signs of an anaphylactic reaction
  • Where you keep epinephrine and how to give you a shot
  • When to call 911


Anaphylactic Shock: Emergency Actions

In cases of severe anaphylactic shock, a person may need additional treatment. This may include the following therapies and medications:

  • administration of oxygen therapy
  • intubation with a tube hooked to a machine to help with breathing
  • beta-agonist injection to reduce swelling in the respiratory tract
  • antihistamines to reduce the severity of the allergic reaction
  • vasopressors to narrow blood vessels and raise blood pressure if it becomes dangerously low
  • corticosteroids to help block allergic reactions and reduce swelling
  • IV fluids for low blood pressure

It is important for people with a history of anaphylactic reactions to know which allergens trigger symptoms.

A doctor will typically recommend allergy testing as avoiding these allergens can be lifesaving.

Desensitization, also known as allergy shots, involves slow and steady exposure to tiny amounts of an allergen. Slow and steady exposure to allergens can reduce the future risk of an allergic reaction.

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