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Anaphylaxis (anaphylaxis): symptoms, causes and treatment

Anaphylaxis (anaphylaxis): symptoms, causes and treatment

July 14, 2024

Anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction caused by different allergenic substances such as medication, food or insect bites, among others. It can be life-threatening if it does not get treated immediately.

Next we will explain what is ampilaxis or anaphylaxis , what are its most common causes, what symptoms it causes, how the diagnosis is made, what is the treatment that is applied to alleviate its symptoms, what is the prognosis that can be carried out and what preventions can be taken to avoid it.

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Anaphylaxis (anaphylaxis): what is it?

Anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction that progresses rapidly and endangers the life of those who suffer . The immune system responds to substances that would otherwise be harmless to the environment (allergens).

Unlike other allergic reactions, however, anaphylaxis can kill. The reaction can begin in a matter of minutes or even seconds after exposure, and progresses rapidly to cause constriction of the respiratory tract, intestinal and skin irritation and altered heart rhythms. In severe cases, it can result in complete airway obstruction, shock and death.

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Common causes

Allergens are more likely to cause anaphylaxis if they are introduced directly into the circulatory system by injection. However, exposure through ingestion, inhalation or skin contact can also cause anaphylaxis. In some cases, anaphylaxis may develop over time from less severe allergies.

Anaphylaxis is most often due to allergens in food, drugs and the poison of insects . Specific causes include:

  • Fish, shellfish and molluscs.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Stings of bees, wasps or hornets .
  • Papain from meat tenderizers.
  • Vaccines, including vaccines against influenza and measles.
  • Penicillin.
  • Cephalosporins.
  • Streptomycin.
  • Gamma globulin .
  • Insulin.
  • Hormones (ACTH, thyroid stimulating hormone).
  • Aspirin and other NSAIDs .
  • Latex, from examination gloves or condoms, for example.

Also, exposure to cold or exercise can lead to an anaphylaxis response in some people.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis

Symptoms develop rapidly, usually in a matter of seconds or minutes. Anaphylaxis can include any of the following symptoms listed below. Even so, not everyone has to be present.

  • Abdominal pain .
  • Anxiety and / or confusion
  • Discomfort or tightness in the chest.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Cramps .
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing , cough, wheezing or acute respiratory sounds.
  • Difficulty to swallow.
  • Dizziness.
  • Hives, itching, redness of the skin.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Nausea and vomiting .
  • Palpitations
  • Poor language articulation
  • Swelling of face and eyes .
  • Swelling and irritation of the tongue and / or mouth.
  • Swelling of the breasts
  • Loss of knowledge


The anaphylactic reaction is diagnosed depending on the rapid development of symptoms in response to a suspected allergen . Your identification can be done with the RAST test. It is a blood test that identifies the reactions of IgE (immunoglobulin type E) to specific allergens. Skin tests may be performed for less severe anaphylactic reactions.


The emergency treatment of anaphylaxis involves the adrenaline injection (epinephrine) that contracts the blood vessels and counteracts the effects of histamine. Oxygen can be administered, as well as intravenous replacement fluids.

Antihistamines can be used for skin rash and aminophylline for bronchial constriction. If the upper airway is obstructed, it may be necessary to place a breathing tube or a tracheostomy tube.

Forecast and expectations

Anaphylaxis can be fatal without timely treatment. Symptoms usually get better with the right therapy, so it is important to act immediately .

The rapidity of the development of symptoms is an indication of the possible severity of the reaction: the faster the symptoms develop, the more serious the final reaction. Going to the doctor with urgency and close monitoring reduce the probability of death in anaphylaxis. Therefore, the majority of people who receive rapid treatment they recover completely .

If you do not act quickly, anaphylaxis can obstruct the airways, cause cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest or fatal anaphylactic shock .

Prevention: what can we do to avoid it?

The main reliable method to prevent anaphylaxis and allergic reactions is to avoid the allergic trigger, such as foods and medications, that have caused an allergic reaction in the past.

For insect allergies, this requires the recognition of probable nesting sites. The prevention of food allergies requires knowledge of prepared foods or dishes in which the allergen is likely to be produced, and a careful questioning of the ingredients when eating out .

If you have a child who is allergic to certain foods, you can introduce a new food at a time in small amounts, so that you can recognize an allergic reaction.

People prone to anaphylaxis should wear an "Epipen" or "Ana-kit", which contain a dose of adrenaline ready for injection. As well as a medical identification tag.

Bibliographic references:

  • Robinson, R. (2002). Anaphylaxis. In D. S. Blanchfield & J. L. Longe (Eds.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 178-180). Detroit: Gale.
  • MedlinePlus (2018). Anaphylaxis. Available at // [Accessed 06 June 2018].

Be Safe from Anaphylaxis-Mayo Clinic (July 2024).

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