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Laura Gesicki-Wood, MD
What Is Anaphylaxis and Am I At Risk?
Accredited Allergy Center of Springfield

What Is Anaphylaxis and Am I At Risk?

Anaphylaxis is an allergic emergency. It is a rapid, severe allergic reaction that occurs when a person is exposed to an allergen (an allergy-causing substance).

When the allergen enters the bloodstream, the body releases chemicals to “protect” itself from the allergen. These chemicals can cause dangerous symptoms, including breathing difficulty, swelling, dizziness, shock, and even death.

Anaphylaxis Is Most Commonly Triggered By

Bee, wasp, hornet, yellow jacket, and fire ant stings.

Foods, including peanuts and other nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, and some food additives.

Latex, found in elastic waistbands, kitchen cleaning gloves, balloons, and muscle relaxants.

Aspirin and antibiotics.

In rare cases, exercise can cause anaphylaxis. Some anaphylactic reactions have no known cause.

Signs You May BeExperiencing Anaphylaxis

Itchy skin or hives

Swelling or flushing of the lips, throat, tongue

Wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, hoarseness


Nausea, vomiting or cramps

Loss of consciousness

There is no specific test for anaphylaxis. However, your doctor can perform tests to determine what substances you may be allergic to. These tests may indicate how severe an allergy is, as well. Other indicators your doctor may use include medical history (including past exposure to possible allergens), physical examination, and your response to treatment.

Prevention and Preparation

The best way to prevent anaphylaxis is to avoid substances and situations that trigger severe allergic reactions. However, it is impossible to avoid all allergens completely. If you or someone you love is at risk for anaphylaxis, you should ask your doctor about the drug epinephrine. This drug is available only by prescription.

Given as an injection, via the EpiPen or EpiPen Jr auto-injectors, epinephrine rapidly constricts the blood vessels, relaxes the lung muscles to improve breathing, reverses swelling, and stimulates the heartbeat. The sooner anaphylaxis is treated, the greater the likelihood of survival.

Therefore, you should be able to reach an EpiPen auto-injector within seconds. Keep one with you at all times. It may be a good idea to store an EpiPen unit wherever you spend a lot of time like home, work, school, day care, and the gym.

The EpiPen auto-injector is an easy-to-use, disposable drug-delivery-system featuring spring activation and a concealed needle. It is designed for self-administration of epinephrine in acute allergic emergencies. EpiPen Jr provides the same medication in doses appropriate for patients weighing 33 to 66 pounds.

Side effects of epinephrine may include palpitations, rapid heart beat, nausea, and respiratory difficulty. Epinephrine should be administered with extreme caution in patients with heart disease. Ask your doctor if EpiPen or EpiPen Jr would be of benefit to you or your loved one.

MD (301) 805-6805 | VA (703) 288-3130