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What Does Anaphylaxis Mean?

Anaphylaxis is an acute allergic reaction, which can result in death if not treated quickly.

An anaphylactic reaction can happen within seconds or minutes of exposure to allergens. This exposure causes an immune system reaction that results in a sudden drop in blood pressure and a narrowing of airways, making it difficult to breathe.

The first signs of an anaphylactic attack mimic a typical allergy symptom like a runny nose or skin rash. However, it may develop escalate to more serious symptoms soon after.

Safeopedia Explains Anaphylaxis

Many workplaces deal with chemicals that can cause anaphylactic reactions. Usually, the safety data sheet (SDS) will list such chemicals as a sensitizer or potential allergen.

Other substances in the workplace that can cause anaphylactic reactions include:

  • Food items, including dairy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, soy, and seafood.
  • Drugs like penicillin, anticonvulsants, insulin, and antibiotics are common allergens
  • Indoor and outdoor allergens, such as pollen, mold, dust, and animal dander
  • Bites and stings from bees, wasps, hornets, fire ants, and other insects
  • Latex, which is a common material in disposable safety gloves

Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

The initial symptoms of anaphylaxis are similar to less severe allergy symptoms. However, they soon become more serious and can include some of the following:

  • Swelling or rashes
  • Hives
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Cramps or abdominal pain
  • Vomiting

If left untreated, potentially fatal symptos can start to set in:

  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shock
  • Sudden weakness
  • Loss of consciousness

Someone undergoing anaphylaxis can show symptoms anywhere from five to sixty minutes after exposure.

Moreover, about 20% of people undergo biphasic anaphylaxis, in which there is a second wave of symptoms after the initial reaction has subsided. This second wave can occur hours or even days after exposure to the allergen.

Treating Anaphylaxis

The most effective treatment for anaphylaxis is administering epinephrine (adrenaline). Those aware of their condition and have had an anaphylactic reaction in the past should carry at least two doses of epinephrine at all times. Usually, the dose is kept in an injector that is shaped like a marker and can be quickly self-injected in the thigh when an episode takes place.

An epinephrine injection works quickly to reverse the symptoms. If the first injection does not improve the symptoms sufficiently, the second injection should be administered.

Even if the symptoms subside completely, it is adisable to get a medical evaluation done.

First Aid for Anaphylaxis

If a person is experiencing an anaphylactic shock, others can respond in the following way:

  • Immediately contact 911 or local medical emergency services
  • Use the epinephrine auto-injector if there is one available
  • Make the person lie still on his or her back
  • Loosen any tight clothing and cover them with a blanket
  • Do not give them anything to drink
  • If there is vomiting or bleeding from the mouth, turn them to their side to prevent choking
  • If there are no signs of breathing, coughing, or movement, perform CPR
  • Get emergency treatment even if symptoms improve

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