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Extreme Allergic Reaction: Anaphylaxis

By on March 22, 2012 in Health with 0 Comments


Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency involving an acute systemic allergic reaction that affects the entire body. This occurs due to the exposure to an antigen (allergen) to which the person has been previously sensitized.

Anaphylaxis is caused by an immunological mechanism which includes an IgE antibody which binds to the mast cell or basophil and reacts to some allergens. This causes the release of various chemicals or mediators. Mediators are chemicals that attract or activate other parts of the immune system. The best known mediator is histamine.

Anaphylactoid reactions have symptoms similar to anaphylaxis but are not triggered by IgE-mediated mechanisms that cause direct release of these mediators. These include reactions to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (eg. aspirin, ibuprofen).

Reported cases of death from any cause of anaphylaxis, according to a study, are 0.4 cases per million people per year. The risk for any person is about 1%. Current textbooks suggest that deaths from injection of penicillin can be as high as 1 in 7.5 million injections. Systemic reactions from bee stings, different types of wasps or fire ants may occur in 0.4 to 4% of the general population.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include: anxiety, itchy skin, headache, nausea and vomiting, sneezing and cough, cramping (abdominal discomfort), hives and swelling of tissues such as lips and joints, diarrhea, shortness of breath and wheezing, low blood pressure, seizures, and loss of consciousness. The eyes may be itchy, tearing and inflammation. Additional symptoms include: itchy mouth and throat, hoarseness, voice change, nasal congestion, chest pain and compression, warmth and flushing, redness of the skin, uterine collapse and urgency.

Anaphylaxis can affect several organ systems including skin, upper and lower respiratory tract, cardiovascular system, eyes, uterus and bladder.

Anaphylaxis has been confused with other reactions such as hyperventilation, anxiety attacks, alcohol intoxication, and low blood sugar. Skin tests and / or RAST blood tests can document sensitivity to various allergens that can cause anaphylaxis, such as bee venom, latex, food and some medicines. Occasionally, patients may experience symptoms similar to anaphylaxis (low blood pressure, seizures) that are caused by other medical conditions such as heart attacks and epilepsy. In these circumstances, blood samples obtained at the time of the event can be analyzed for the presence of “tryptase” which suggests that the symptoms are caused by an allergic mechanism (eg, anaphylaxis).


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