Allergies Anaphylactic Shock

Allergies occur when the body’s immune system responds in an abnormal way to usually harmless substances called allergens. Those substances can range from a food (such as peanuts or fish) to environmental factors (such as pollen, or even the sun). Doctors classify allergy symptoms according to the symptom’s degree of severity:

  • Mild allergic reactions include congestion, itchy eyes and other symptoms that only impact one part of the body.
  • Moderate allergic reactions include symptoms that impact more than one part of the body, such as general itching.
  • Severe allergic reactions (such as anaphylaxis) are the category used for situations in which the body reacts suddenly and entirely. In cases of anaphylaxis, the individual’s response impacts the entire body.

About Anaphylactic Shock

For those who experience severe allergic reactions, it is essential to understand what causes the reaction, so that they can avoid the food or environmental substance as much as possible. In the event that the allergen is inadvertently consumed or contacted, the individual as well as family and friends need to know what to do to manage the situation safely. To do so, it’s important to understand how to recognize and treat anaphylactic shock.

When anaphylactic shock occurs, it involves an extremely severe allergic reaction that constitutes a medical emergency. Although an episode may begin by impacting only one part of the body (for example, the facial skin may itch), it quickly spreads. Symptoms can include:

  • confusion/feelings of being disoriented
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • stomach cramps and pain
  • swelling that can affect swallowing and respiration
  • vomiting.

Those involved need to seek prompt emergency treatment. Whenever a severe allergic reaction occurs, it is essential to seek medical help and be fully diagnosed. This includes gathering information about future precautionary measures and treatment.

A common myth is that allergies are always diagnosed when a child is young. In reality, before an anaphylactic reaction occurs, you must be sensitized to that allergen first. For example, you might be stung by a bee when you are three years old and have a minor response. The second bee sting, however — which could occur years after the first one — might produce a severe allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. In other cases, individuals may have been exposed to a substance many times before reacting.

Triggers of Anaphylactic Shock

Someone who is severely allergic to a substance may require only a tiny amount of exposure to experience anaphylaxis. Triggers may range from prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs to stinging insects such as wasps. Foods that are common triggers include:

  • eggs
  • fish
  • nuts
  • soy.

For those who love to eat in restaurants, it is essential to inform the restaurant of a severe allergy before you visit. This will make it possible for the chef to prepare a meal that is free of any dangerous allergens that may cause a reaction.

What to Do During an Anaphylactic Episode

Prepare for emergencies before one occurs. If you experience severe allergic reactions, make sure to inform your friends, family members, colleagues and manager at work. Ask your physician to provide you with as much information as possible so you can tell people how to help you if you experience anaphylactic shock.

Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend that you carry an auto-injector with you at all times. A combined syringe and needle, this provides your body with a measured dose of medication. Ask your doctor to teach those close to you how to give the drug as well.

If someone goes into anaphylactic shock, follow these steps:

  • If you notice someone has problems breathing, cool and/or clammy skin, a weak pulse, mental confusion and/or fainting or extreme dizziness, immediately call 911 or seek emergency medical assistance. If you are not sure, don’t hesitate: it’s better to be safe.
  • If you know that the person has medications (or an auto-injector) to treat this particular type of episode and you are trained in administering it, follow the directions you have been given.

Any time you experience such an episode, be sure to update your health care provider immediately after your recovery so your doctor can monitor your health and recommend any additional preventive measures available.

Examples of preventive measures include:

  • For those allergic to bees and other stinging insects, wear long sleeves and long pants and avoid the temptation to go barefoot in the grass on hot days.
  • If you have a food allergy, read labels carefully before you buy any food; before you eat in a restaurant, call ahead and ask them to prepare your meal separately and carefully.


EMedicineHealth (n.d.). Severe allergic reaction (anaphylactic shock). Retrieved March 17, 2009, from the EMedicineHealth Web site:

Mayo Clinic. (September 2008). Anaphylaxis. Retrieved March 17, 2009, from the Mayo Clinic Web site:

WebMD (n.d.). Allergy symptoms. Retrieved March 17, 2009, from the WebMD Web site: