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Anaphylaxis is a serious and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. The symptoms of the reaction can manifest within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen.
The chemicals released by the immune system during an anaphylactic shock can lead to severe physical trauma and requires an immediate medical attention and an epinephrine injection. If an anaphylactic shock isn’t treated immediately, it can lead to unconsciousness or even death.
The symptoms usually occur within minutes of exposure to an allergen. Sometimes, it may take longer. The most common symptoms include:
- Skin flushing along with rashes all over the body
- Swelling of the throat and mouth.
- Narrowing of the airways which cause difficulty in breathing
- Rapid and weak pulse
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Lightheadedness, sometimes followed by fainting
The immune system produces antibodies to defend the body against foreign substances. But in some individuals, the immune system overreact to harmless substances. When this happens, the immune system triggers a chemical chain reaction, leading to an anaphylactic shock.
A number of allergens can trigger the phenomenon. The most common allergens include:
- Certain drugs, especially penicillin
- Foods, such as peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews), shellfish, and dairy products
- Stings from bees, wasps, or fire ants
If the anaphylaxis is due to an unknown trigger, the doctor does tests to try to identify the allergen.
Immediate treatment is vital for people having an anaphylactic shock. Medications administered as soon as the attack includes:
- Epinephrine injection to counteract the body’s allergic response
- Breathing mask to compensate for restricted breathing
- Intravenous antihistamines and cortisone to reduce the inflammation of the airway and improve breathing
- A beta-agonist to relieve breathing symptoms
Immunotherapy is a treatment that aims to reduce the body’s response to particular allergens and prevent a full blown allergic reaction. This is achieved by introducing minute quantities of allergens into the bloodstream to desensitise the immune system to the allergen.
Dr. Vishwesh V
MBBS, Dip. CRCDM, DFM UK