Anaphylaxis is the most extreme form of allergic reaction and is potentially life-threatening. It is therefore essential that it is always treated as a medical emergency and assistance is sought.
A standard allergic reaction occurs when one part of the immune system overreacts when exposed to a certain substance (allergen). This usually involves itchy eyes, a runny nose or skin rash as the body releases chemicals such as histamine locally to fight off what it perceives as a threat.
In an anaphylactic reaction the immune system goes into overdrive releasing a potentially lethal dose of these chemicals into the bloodstream.
The most common allergens known to cause anaphylactic shock are certain foods, medications, insect stings and occasionally latex. Once triggered anaphylaxis can occur within seconds with symptoms such as dizziness, rapidly spreading rash, wheezing / tightness in chest and a drop in blood pressure (shock).
If any of these symptoms are present and anaphylaxis is suspected then prompt action is needed. The only effective treatment is an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) and anyone with a known history of anaphylaxis should carry at least one auto-injector.
As it stands there is currently no way of knowing whether a person will be susceptible to an anaphylactic episode. However, there are a few indicators that may suggest a person has a slightly higher risk. These include; having a history of moderate to severe asthma; if a reaction occurs to the allergen after skin contact only; if a serious reaction occurs in the presence of a small amount of allergen; or if the person has previously experienced anaphylaxis.
Unfortunately the absence of a previous reaction to an allergen does not mean it won’t be triggered next time. In fact for the body to recognize the allergen and overreact means you must have been exposed to it at least once before.