Anaphylaxis is the most severe allergic reaction, often involving more than one body system. The factors that cause someone to have an anaphylactic reaction are called ‘allergens’ or ‘triggers’. Anaphylaxis can quickly become life threatening and as such it is important to know your triggers so you can effectively avoid them.


Peanut Butter - an Anaphylaxis Trigger

Peanut butter – an anaphylaxis trigger

An anaphylactic reaction usually occurs within 20 minutes of exposure to a trigger. It is characterised by rapid onset of airway, breathing and/or circulation problems usually associated with skin and mucosal changes. There are a variety of factors that can cause this extreme allergic reaction, however the most common triggers are foods, medications and venom from insect bites and stings.

The most common food, medications and venom that cause anaphylactic shock include:


  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Sesame
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Wheat
  • Soy

Venom from Bites and Stings

  • Bee
  • Wasp
  • Ant stings


  • Over the counter
  • Prescribed
  • Herbal/alternative

How do I avoid my triggers?

In order to figure out what your triggers are, you should see a doctor who will perform allergy tests. Your doctor will then give you the best advice for managing your anaphylaxis.


It is important to remember that even a small amount of certain foods can cause a life threatening anaphylactic reaction. If you have experienced an anaphylactic reaction from a particular type of food, you should cut that food out of your diet completely.

When buying food:

  • Learn how to understand labels.
  • Read the ingredients list carefully.
  • Look out for warnings like ‘This product may contain traces of nuts’.

When eating away from home:

  • Ask about food content and preparation.
  • Make sure it hasn’t been prepared on the same surface as a food you are allergic to.

If your reaction can be set off by simply breathing in or touching a food allergen:

  • Avoid leaning on public tables that may contain traces of food allergens
  • Be wary on airplanes: Foods such as peanuts are often served on airplanes, so be wary of traces of nuts on your chair and tray table.
  • See if you can request a flight where peanuts are not served


Some alcohol can contain traces of allergens such as eggs, tree nuts and seafood
If you are unsure about a certain drink you should call the manufacturer to determine whether it is safe for you to have.

Venom from bites and stings

The majority of allergic reactions to bites and stings are from ants, bees and wasps. If you are allergic to insect bites you should:

  • Avoid flowers and pollen, particularly in the warmer months.
  • Avoid sitting directly on grass or areas that may contain ants.
  • Keep car windows up in the warmer months.
  • Wear covered in shoes when walking in areas that may contain insects.
  • Use protective clothing when going on bushwalks or picnics: e.e. covered clothing and insect repellent (ensure this repellent won’t cause an allergic reaction).
  • When eating outdoors don’t leave food exposed for too long.

If allergic reaction has occurred due to an insect sting or tick bite, you should immediately remove the sting or carefully remove the tick. An adrenaline auto-injector shot should be administered and emergency called immediately.


Both over the counter and prescribed medications can cause life threatening anaphylactic reactions. This is because some medications can contain substances that are triggers for anaphylaxis sufferers.

If you are allergic to certain medications you can avoid them by:

  • Informing the doctor or nurse about your allergy.
  • Asking your doctor about which medications to avoid.
  • Know which over the counter medications you can take by asking your doctor.
  • Avoid herbal/alternative medications.

First aid for anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a serious medical condition and should be prepared for effectively. The best way to avoid a severe anaphylaxis reaction is to follow an anaphylaxis management plan and carry an adrenaline auto-injector device such as an Epipen or Anapen. To create an effective management plan tailored to your particular allergens, your doctor will refer you to an allergy specialist.

If you have anaphylaxis you should also have a readily accessible anaphylaxis action plan. An action plan contains information about what to do in an anaphylactic emergency. You should know this plan from memory and carry it with you so that other people can access it during an emergency.

If someone’s symptoms and signs suggest anaphylaxis you should take the following steps:

  • Lay victim flat, do not stand or walk, if breathing is difficult, allow to sit
  • Prevent further exposure to the triggering agent if possible
  • Administer adrenaline through auto-injector:
    • Child less than 5 years – 0.15 mg intramuscular injection.
    • Older than 5 years – 0.3mg intramuscular injection
  • Call an ambulance
  • Administer oxygen and / or asthma medication for respiratory symptoms.
  • Further adrenaline should be given if no response after five minutes.
  • If breathing stops follow resuscitation and life support procedures.

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This post was written by awfa

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