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Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction in the body caused by a specific trigger, such as an allergy. In comparison to a normal allergic reaction that may display mild symptoms, anaphylaxis can sometimes be life-threatening if not treated quickly.

A range of things, including insect stings, common food allergies and intolerances to some medications can trigger this condition. In some cases, materials such as latex might also cause issues.

Everybody’s immune system works to fight against foreign substances that may cause harm. However, for someone with anaphylaxis, the immune system goes into overdrive. It may react suddenly to things that generally do not cause reactions in most individuals.

While having allergies doesn’t usually cause too many issues, if a severe allergic reaction occurs, it can be life-threatening. If a person has experienced a mild reaction previously, there is a chance that more severe symptoms could develop if exposed to the same trigger.

Surprisingly, this condition has been linked to triggers you may not think of, such as exercise, or eating certain foods before exercising.

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If a person experiences anaphylaxis, there are several symptoms to look out for. While these symptoms are associated with everyday allergies, in anaphylaxis, they will get worse very quickly, so acting fast is crucial.

Some of the key symptoms include:

  • Breathing problems including fast and shallow breaths
  • Fast heart rate
  • Light-headedness, or feeling faint
  • Clammy skin
  • Wheezing
  • Confusion

A person may collapse, or even lose consciousness. In some cases, individuals may also experience hives, sickness, or swelling, which may be the initial sign of the trigger.

The Risk Factors Of Anaphylaxis

Some people may have been diagnosed with allergies in their childhood; others may not know they have triggers until adulthood. Although there are no hard and fast rules about the risk factors, there are some suggested things to watch out for that may mean you are more likely to suffer from a severe reaction. These include:

Allergies, Or Asthma

If you have known allergies, or have been diagnosed with asthma, you have an increased risk of developing anaphylaxis.

Previous Severe Reactions

If an individual has previously suffered from anaphylaxis (mild, or severe), they will have an increased risk of experiencing it again. It has also been suggested that future reactions could be more severe than previous ones.

Other Health Conditions

In some cases, people that suffer from other health conditions, such as heart disease and mastocytosis, could have a higher risk factor.

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If you have known allergies and are at risk of anaphylaxis, then it can be quite overwhelming also, some triggers can't be identified.

The first step in coping with this condition is to get a diagnosis. A medical professional will often do a blood test to measure the enzyme tryptase in the body. Getting allergy testing completed is also an excellent way to help work out what some of the different triggers are.

Once you have a diagnosis, then preventing a severe reaction is something that can become a common fixture in your life.

Prevention is undoubtedly one of the best ways to reduce reactions and there are a few things you can do to prevent future reactions.

Identify Your Triggers

Although it is easier said than done, identifying your triggers is the first step. It is a good idea to ensure that you know all the types of allergies you have, as these could potentially turn into something more severe. Visiting your doctor, or an allergy clinic, will give you an indicator of what may be a trigger.

Avoid Triggers

Wherever possible, triggers should be avoided to reduce the risk of a severe reaction. It can be challenging to avoid everything and, in some cases, not feasible either. However, it is a good idea to prepare ahead. This can be helpful if you have food allergies because eating out, or food shopping, it can be difficult to avoid certain foods. 

Carry An Adrenaline Auto-injector

If you are at risk of anaphylaxis, then you may have an adrenaline auto-injector mobility aid in case of an emergency. This medication is issued and should be carried with you at all times, as you never know when a trigger may occur. In many cases, two injector mobility aids will be prescribed to ensure you have a backup. If you have two, carry both for peace of mind.

If you require assistance on how to use an adrenaline auto-injector, instructions can be found on the side of the actual auto-injector. There are typically three types of auto-injector mobility aids, including EpiPen, Jext and Emerade. They are used in slightly different ways, so be sure to know how to use them before administering them.

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If you are at risk of anaphylaxis, then there is a range of resources and support available to help you lead a normal lifestyle. A medical professional and the NHS have lots of information.

You can also find out more about the condition at Anaphylaxis Campaign. This is a charity that supports people at risk of severe allergies. The organisation provides information and support on living with the condition.

There is also the opportunity to visit support groups within local areas to meet others experiencing the same condition. The charity also has a helpful AllergyWise e-learning website to help you and others around you learn about the risks and how to help in an emergency.

There are several events run throughout the year for people living with the condition. Check out the Anaphylaxis Campaign for more information on conferences, support groups and healthcare industry events near you.


The medical glossary

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Medical terms are often baffling and difficult to fully understand. To help, we have listed some frequently used terms below.

  • Adrenaline – a stress hormone produced in the adrenal gland that makes the heart beat faster
  • Allergy – overreaction of the body to a specific external item, such as food, pollen, insects, latex and specific chemicals
  • Asthma – a lung condition which narrows and swells airways, making breathing difficult
  • Diagnosis – the process of identifying a disease, condition, or injury from its symptoms
  • Immune system – a complex system of special organs, cells and chemicals that fight infection
  • Trigger – something that sets off a disease, or flare up