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Anaphylaxis

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Anaphylaxis refers to the most dangerous types of allergic reactions, reactions so severe that they are sometimes life-threatening. An allergic reaction happens when your immune system produces antibodies that help defend you against harmful substances. If these substances provoke an allergic reaction, they are called allergens.

ANAPHYLAXIS SYMPTOMS

The chemicals produced by these antibodies may produce mild allergic symptoms such as watery eyes and runny nose, designed to flush out unwelcome substances. Anaphylaxis, however, happens when your body has a much more severe reaction. Your blood pressure may drop suddenly, your bronchial tubes narrow, and you may become short of breath, pass out, or even die. This reaction can occur within minutes, or even seconds, of exposure to your allergen.

ANAPHYLAXIS REACTION

Fortunately, anaphylaxis is the most rare type of allergic reaction, and it is one for which you can be prepared. If you know the signs of your allergic response, you can avoid your allergens, and you can carry emergency medication with you so that there is no delay in treatment if you do experience anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is most likely to occur if you are exposed to allergens such as bee stings, certain foods, or certain medications. In some cases, people do not even know that they are allergic until they have this first dangerous reaction; for example, they do not know how severely they will react to a bee sting until they are stung by a bee. If that happens to you, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Your airways may become constricted. This will result in wheezing, and an inability to draw a full breath. Part of that constriction may include the swelling of your tongue or throat, which will prevent air from flowing into your lungs unimpeded.
- You may go into shock as a result of a drop in your blood pressure.
- Your pulse may become weak, or your heart may begin to beat very rapidly.
- You may become dizzy or faint as a result of lack of oxygen or low blood pressure.
- Your skin may break out in hives and itch terribly.
- You may have flushed skin, which indicated a rush of blood to your face, or you may go very pale, which indicated a lack of oxygen.
- You may have gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

ANAPHYLAXIS CAUSES

The cause of an anaphylactic reaction is not always understood; you may show up at your doctor with symptoms of a severe reaction and not be able to identify what allergen caused it. Your doctor may go through a list of common allergens, including drugs, such as penicillin, which many people are allergic to. Another common source of anaphylaxis can be found in foods such as peanuts, shellfish, treenuts, milk, eggs, fish, and shellfish. Anaphylaxis can also occur with stings from insects such as bees, hornets, wasps, yellow jackets, ore fire ants. Many people also find that they are severely allergic to latex, and must avoid it.
Anaphylaxis
Image: Anaphylaxis


If you experience an episode of anaphylaxis, especially if you do not know what caused it, you should see a specialist who can help you pinpoint your allergies. Episodes of anaphylaxis tend to get progressively worse, meaning that if you have experienced one before, the next one may be worse. In order to minimize future episodes, or perhaps prevent them altogether, your doctor will evaluate you for some of the common conditions listed above: food, medications, latex, and insect stings. Other tests can include blood tests or skin tests, in which small areas of skin are exposed to different allergens and tested for reactions. Knowing what your allergic triggers are can help you avoid future episodes. A specialist can also provide you with emergency treatment such as certain shots, and teach you how to give it to yourself properly, so that if you are exposed to your allergen, you can minimize anaphylaxis.

ANAPHYLAXIS TREATMENT

The most common treatment for anaphylaxis is the drug epinephrine, or adrenaline. Your allergist will show you how to administer this to yourself with a shot-device called an EpiPen. This is an injector which injects a single dose of the medication you need. In some cases, you will need to carry the EpiPen with you at all times in case you inadvertently become exposed to your allergen, such as being stung by a bee at a baseball game or eating food prepared in peanut oil. It is also important that your family and friends know how to administer your medication in case you are too quickly incapacitated to do it yourself.

ANAPHYLAXIS PREVENTION

The best way to treat anaphylaxis is to prevent it from ever happening in the first place. The next best thing is to get immediate treatment if it does. The following are some measures you can take to guard your health and safety:
 Avoid your allergic triggers. This can be more complicated than it sounds. If you are allergic to certain foods, you must become accustomed to reading labels assiduously. If you are allergic to insect stings, you should wear long pants and long sleeves as often as you can when going outdoors. Wear shoes and socks rather than sandals to avoid stepping on insects or exposing skin to insects in the grass.

 Talk to your doctor about any severe reactions to medications you have had in the past. Your doctor can determine whether you are allergic and likely to suffer anaphylaxis, or whether you experienced normal side effects of the medication.
 Keep an emergency kit with you at all times. This should include your EpiPen and a written summary of your allergies. This will help emergency workers know what to do if they have to treat you.

Anaphylaxis can be a frightening condition, especially if it comes on suddenly. The better prepared you are to allow for its presence in your life, the more likely it is that you will not only survive, but continue to maintain good health despite your allergies.
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