To put it simply, anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock as it is commonly referred to is a severe allergic reaction to an allergen that can lead to death by asphyxiation from respiratory and/or cardiovascular complications. It is not a disease, but an autoimmune reaction where the immune system itself overreacts to often harmless substances that it considers to be pathogens and releases a number of chemicals in potentially lethal doses. Recognizing the signs of anaphylaxis early could be the difference between life and death, so go through the following and learn them by heart.
Hives and Severe Itching
All allergic reactions on the skin usually present themselves as itchy hives, but since anaphylaxis is an extreme form of allergy, the hives will likely be bigger, itchier, and will cover a larger part of the body, if not the whole body.
Swelling of the Lips, Tongue, and Eyes
The lips and eyes may swell slightly, even during a normal allergic reaction, but if the patient is experiencing anaphylaxis, the swelling will be prominent and if left untreated, the eyes could become completely closed, while the lips and tongue may visibly swell enough to impede speech and breathing.
Swelling and Constricting of the Airways
Swelling and complete blockage of the respiratory pathways is precisely what causes death in most patients experiencing anaphylaxis. Symptoms include mild to severe breathing trouble, wheezing, coughing, nausea, inability to swallow, vomiting, and flushed skin (face in particular).
Hypotension (Low Blood Pressure)
Blood pressure will almost always drop in patients experiencing an anaphylactic shock, which increases the heart beat rapidly, as the heart tries desperately to try and keep the blood pressure from dropping too low. The hypotension can lead to drowsiness, dizziness, or even fainting, which is why the patient should never stand during the episode, as falling can lead to further complications.
Although rare, anaphylaxis can potentially cause myocardial infarction, dysrhythmia or acute cardiac arrest by inducing spasms of the coronary artery. This could once again be lethal, especially in older individuals with pre-existing heart conditions, or very young children who do not have a strong heart capacity yet.
What Can You Do About It?
If someone is experiencing a case of anaphylaxis, rush to the Urgency Room, which stays open from 8 am to 10 pm every single day of the week, and has ER physicians present to take care of the allergic reaction before it can become too serious. However, if the patient is already at an advanced stage of anaphylactic shock, call 9-1-1 for immediate emergency help.
Timely action is the only way to counter the effects of the autoimmune reaction and it usually involves a trip to the urgency room, where an epinephrine injection is administered immediately. In case you or anyone else in your family has had a history of experiencing severe allergic reactions, keeping a stock of epinephrine injections and knowing how to administer the treatment is advised. You will still need to visit the urgency room for a follow-up, but that injection can save your life!
It has been observed that females and young children are the most susceptible to anaphylactic reactions, though it can happen to anyone and adult males have died from anaphylaxis in the US and abroad.