Anaphylaxis the most severe allergic reaction that can rapidly become life threatening if it isn’t responded to or treated immediately. Anaphylaxis affects one or a combination of body systems –skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal and/or cardiovascular. The severe reaction generally occurs within 20 minutes to 2 hours after exposure to an allergen.
An allergic reaction occurs when a person’s immune systems overreacts to an allergen – a substance or ‘trigger’ that is generally harmless to others. When someone comes into contact with an allergen, their immune system responds by creating an antibody to attack the allergen, which in turn sets off one or a number of reactions. If someone’s immune reaction is too intense, it is referred to as an anaphylactic reaction.
Anaphylaxis is treated as a medical emergency because many of the symptoms can quickly become life-threatening.
During an anaphylactic reaction, the body suddenly releases chemical substances such as histamine, which are stored in the cells of blood and tissue. This sudden release is caused by the reaction between the antibody and the allergen. The chemicals released from the cells cause swelling, most commonly of the eyes, nose, and throat. These chemicals also cause other problems such as a dramatic fall in blood pressure. People with anaphylaxis are usually so sensitive to their allergens that even a minute exposure to it can trigger an anaphylactic reaction.
Signs and symptoms can be subtle or severe, but include one or a combination of:
There are many allergens that can cause anaphylaxis. The most common allergens in Australia are:
Read more on how to avoid anaphylactic triggers here.
If you witness signs that suggest someone may be suffering from anaphylaxis, and are not already aware of their Anaphylaxis Action Plan, you should take the following steps:
For more information about anaphylaxis first aid management, read Guideline 9.2.7 by Australian Resuscitation Council. Taking an accredited first aid course in asthma and anaphylaxis will also educate you via theoretical and practical experience.
Guest writer: Zoe Perl
Australia Wide First Aid