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Anaphylaxis is a critical and potentially fatal allergic reaction that affects the entire body within a few minutes of exposure to the allergens. In anaphylaxis, the body’s immune system releases chemicals in response to the external factors. The most common factors that can cause anaphylaxis are food, insect stings, latex, and medications. The abnormal release of chemicals into the blood would decrease the blood pressure levels and causes difficulty in breathing.

Certain drugs like morphine, aspirin, and X-ray dyes may also cause allergic reactions, which are similar to that of anaphylaxis. These reactions do not occur due to the response of the immune system. However, the treatment and the symptoms remain same for both the types of allergic reactions. Individuals with weak immune system are more susceptible to a serious anaphylactic reaction.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Skin reactions
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hives and itching
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Swelling of the tongue or throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulty swallowing


The most common triggers that can cause anaphylaxis are food allergens, wasp stings, bee stings, and latex. Certain agents used in immunotherapy and medications such as penicillin can also produce a severe allergic reaction. In some people, an intense exercise in combination with certain types of food substances can trigger allergic reactions.

Foods that account for allergic reactions include peanuts, dairy products, wheat, fish, sesame, and eggs. Disposable gloves, adhesive tapes, syringes, intravenous tubes are few latex substances that can cause anaphylaxis. Rarely, dust, pollen, and certain substances in the air can also cause anaphylactic shock.

Risk Factors

The following are the factors that increase the risk of anaphylaxis:

  • Medical History: People having a previous medical history of anaphylaxis are at an increased risk of developing future reactions to allergens.
  • Asthma: Individuals with a history of asthma are at a higher risk of anaphylaxis.
  • Food Allergies: People who are allergic to certain foods like nuts, soy, dairy products, and eggs may develop severe allergic reactions.
  • Other Conditions: Very rarely, a heart disease and unusual accumulation of white blood cells might raise the risk of anaphylaxis.


Anaphylaxis can contribute to certain potential complications such as:

  • Inflammation of the airways
  • Heart attack
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Kidney failure
  • Brain damage
  • Cardiogenic shock

Moreover, anaphylaxis can cause damage to the lungs in the people who are suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). It can also worsen the symptoms in individuals who have multiple sclerosis.


The doctor would review the medical history of allergic reactions and recommend certain diagnostic tests. The following are the diagnostic tests to determine the triggers that cause allergy:

  • Complete Blood CountA complete blood count (CBC) helps to screen a number diseases and conditions that affect the RBC and WBC count.
  • Serum Immunoglobulin TestA sample of your blood is drawn to determine the presence of immunoglobulins (IgE). This test helps to screen the allergic infections and trace the causative organism. 
  • ETO Radioallergosorbent Test (RAST) – Ethylene oxide (ETO) radioallergosorbent test helps to diagnose allergic diseases such as food allergy and allergic rhinitis. The test detects the specific IgE immunoglobulins in the blood.
  • Formaldehyde TestFormaldehyde is a chemical found in many of the products. Many products such as household cleaners, paper products, paints, cosmetics, and medicated creams contain formaldehyde. Patch testing helps to determine formaldehyde sensitivity.


Early diagnosis and treatment reduce the risk of developing the complications associated with anaphylaxis. The anaphylactic shock is immediately treated with epinephrine (adrenaline) injection to reduce the severity of the condition. Antihistamines and cortisone medications help in reducing the inflammation in airway passages. Corticosteroid drugs reduce the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. A beta-agonist such as albuterol is prescribed to reduce the breathing symptoms.


The following are the tips that prevent anaphylaxis:

  • Stay away from the allergens that trigger severe allergic reactions
  • Avoid consuming foods which trigger an allergic reaction
  • Avoid fabrics and cosmetics that cause allergy
  • Avoid using sulfa drugs and medications that increase the risk of allergy

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