Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is a severe allergic reaction that can quickly become life threatening if not treated immediately.
Anaphylaxis generally occurs within 20 minutes to 2 hours after exposure to an allergen. It can affect more than one system in the body: the skin, as well as the respiratory, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems.
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Anaphylaxis is the most severe type of allergic reaction. An allergic reaction is when a person’s immune system overreacts to a substance or ‘trigger’. This trigger, though it may be harmless to most people, is called an allergen.
When a person experiences an allergic reaction, their immune system creates antibodies to attack the allergen, which then sets off a range of immune system responses. For instance, the body releases chemicals, such as histamines, that are stored in blood and tissue cells.
These chemicals can cause the person experiencing an allergic reaction to go into shock, which subsequently results in a fall in blood pressure and a narrowing of the airways. For people with anaphylaxis, even minuscule exposure to their allergens can trigger a dangerous reaction. Immune systems can overreact to the point of death if it is not treated as a medical emergency.
Anaphylaxis is treated as a medical emergency, as many of the symptoms can quickly become life threatening. These symptoms include:
As well as severe symptoms, there is a range of less dangerous anaphylactic symptoms, including:
Although these symptoms are less alarming, they should be treated with just as much urgency as more severe symptoms. Anaphylactic shock can quickly escalate and the earlier it is treated, the better.
A range of allergens can cause someone to go into anaphylactic shock. Common triggers include:
Though Anaphylaxis is not curable, it is preventable and treatable. Adrenaline auto-injectors, such as Epipen® and Anapen®, are carried by those who are at risk. These auto-injectors are designed to be used by anyone: a friend, childcare worker, parent, teacher, passer-by, or even the casualty themselves. To care for and treat a casualty experiencing anaphylaxis, the below steps should be followed:
For a demonstration on how to administer an EpiPen®, please watch the below video:
The adrenaline will reduce the effects of the reaction by causing the casualty's blood vessels to restrict and by increasing their heart rate. This will raise the casualty's blood pressure and improve their blood flow. The adrenaline will also relax the casualty's airway, thereby making it easier for them to breathe. More information about how to administer and manage adrenaline auto-injectors can be found in our Resource Library. The Australian Resuscitation Council's First Aid Management of Anaphylaxis Guideline 9.2.7 is also a useful resource for treating anaphylaxis.
Likewise, two of our most popular courses include first aid treatment for anaphylaxis:
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, replace, or qualify as any form of first aid training.