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Severe Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis)

Severe allergic reactions are called allergic emergencies or anaphylaxis.. These severe reactions can be due to exposure to food, insect stings, medication and latex.. Anaphylaxis affects an estimated 3 million to 40 million Americans and causes up to 1500 deaths each year.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include hives, itchiness and redness, wheezing and /or difficulty breathing, swelling of the tongue, throat, nose, eyes, dizziness and fainting or loss of consciousness, and nausea, stomach cramping and vomiting or diarrhea.

The symptoms can occur within minutes of exposure to the offending allergen or may develop up to two hours later.. In some cases a second reaction may occur eight to 12 hours after the initial reaction.

Patients who have a history of allergic conditions or have had a previous severe allergic reaction are at greater risk for anaphylaxis, but anyone can have a severe allergic reactions.

Identifying the cause of anaphylaxis requires a detailed history of all food and medication ingested before the reaction and a review of all activities. Exercise can sometimes trigger or contribute to anaphylaxis. While a patient’s history is often the most important tool, skin tests or other diagnostic tests also may be performed to identify specific triggers, confirm a diagnosis or rule out other causes.

Food allergy accounts for about half of anaphylactic reactions, with peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk and eggs being the most common triggers.

Immediate emergency treatment is required for all patients who experience any anaphylactic symptoms. Patients who have had an anaphylactic reaction should see an allergist. An allergist can determine the risk for future reactions, take a detailed history, conduct diagnostic tests, review avoidance techniques and provide an emergency treatment plan.