Allergies Anaphylaxis

An estimated two out of every 10 people in the United States suffer from allergies. While most allergies can be managed with over-the-counter medication or avoidance of the allergen, some patients suffer from severe, adverse allergic reactions, known as anaphylaxis. Unlike hay fever or other mild allergies, anaphylaxis is a very serious reaction that requires immediate medical intervention.

About Allergies

Allergies are abnormal responses to usually harmless substances in the environment, known as allergens. When the body comes into contact with an allergen, it signals to the body to produce immunoglobulin (IgE) antibodies to fight off the allergen. The IgE antibodies attach themselves to other blood cells, known as mast cells. As the allergens bind to the IgE antibodies, the mast cells become damaged during the process and release a variety of chemicals, including histamine.

Histamine is the primary cause of allergic symptoms, including:

  • clear, runny nose
  • congestion
  • itchiness
  • rash
  • watery eyes.

Because the amounts of IgE antibodies present in the body are determined by genetics, allergies are often hereditary. Some of the most common types of allergies include:

  • animal proteins
  • foods
  • hormones
  • insect stings
  • medications
  • vaccines.

As a result, many people suffer from allergic reactions to:

  • bee stings
  • cosmetics
  • dust
  • eggs
  • fish
  • latex
  • medications
  • milk
  • mold
  • nuts
  • pets
  • poison ivy
  • shellfish
  • soy
  • sulfites
  • the sun
  • wheat.

About Anaphylaxis and Anaphylaxis Symptoms

Unlike acute allergic reactions that affect small parts of the body, anaphylaxis is a severe reaction involves the entire body. Anaphylaxis often onsets quickly and can be fatal.

Anaphylaxis occurs after mast cells release large amounts of chemical mediators, including histamine. This reaction occurs after the mast cells have been previously sensitized to the allergen during an initial exposure.

Because large amounts of histamine are released into the body, anaphylaxis symptoms may include:

  • abdominal pain
  • anxiety
  • diarrhea
  • difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • fainting
  • flushing
  • hives
  • hoarseness
  • irregular, rapid pulse
  • itching
  • low blood pressure
  • swelling
  • vomiting.

In some cases, chemical mediators may cause the body to widen capillaries, causing a drop in blood pressure, lightheadedness and loss of consciousness. They may also cause difficulty breathing. This condition is called anaphylactic shock, and can be fatal if not treated immediately.

Anaphylaxis is typically triggered by allergens that are ingested, injected or inhaled, which gain quick access to the blood stream. Some of the most common triggers of anaphylaxis are penicillin, insect stings and certain foods; however, 25 percent of all anaphylaxis episodes are considered idiopathic, meaning they have an unknown cause.

Treating Acute Anaphylaxis and Other Allergic Reactions

Almost anyone is at risk for anaphylaxis. Many believe allergies are hereditary, causing those who have parents with allergies at a higher risk for developing their own allergies. Other research supports those with asthma, eczema or hay fever may be especially vulnerable to anaphylaxis. Recent studies suggest that women have a higher reported incidence of anaphylaxis; however, it is difficult to study the condition because it is often under-diagnosed.

Those who believe they have suffered from acute anaphylaxis should speak with their allergist and undergo allergy tests. By identifying the substance, they can avoid the allergen and lessen their chance for another adverse reaction. They may also choose to receive allergy shots, pre-medication or desensitization therapy to prevent future episodes.

During an anaphylaxis episode, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Patients who are vulnerable to severe allergic reactions may carry with them an Epi-Pen — a small, emergency dose of epinephrine. Epinephrine, or adrenaline, is useful in anaphylaxis episodes because it contracts blood vessels, preventing the release of more chemical mediators. In addition, it relaxes bronchial tubes to help patients breathe, eases stomach cramps and lessens hives and itching.

Allergists may also recommend antihistamines, cortisones and/or bronchial dilators for patients prone to anaphylaxis. Fortunately, many people are able to manage their symptoms with greater ease after speaking with a highly skilled allergist and lead happy, healthy lives.

Resources

Krause, R. S. (2008). Anaphylaxis. Retrieved March 16, 2009, from the eMedicine Web site: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/756150-overview.

MedicineNet, Inc. (2007). Anaphylaxis. Retrieved March 16, 2009, from the Medicinenet Web site: http://www.medicinenet.com/anaphylaxis/page7.htm.

Ryan, W. M. (2007). Basic allergy information. Retrieved on March 16, 2009, from the WebMD Web site: http://www.webmd.com/allergies/guide/basics-1.