Have you ever wondered why many schools have banned peanut butter in kids’ lunches over the past several years? Have you ever been in the hospital, told the doctor about your allergies, and had to wear a red ‘Allergy’ band along with your identification band? Or do you have a friend or family member who has to carry an Epi-pen around? In all of these cases, it’s not just due to allergies, but due to the risk of a particularly severe type of allergic reaction known as Anaphylaxis.
What is Anaphylaxis:
Put simply, Anaphylaxis is a rare allergic reaction that is nevertheless extremely dangerous; if left untreated it can be fatal within a very brief period of time. The good news is if medical interventions are begun quickly, the reaction can be stopped and the patient’s life can be saved.
What Exactly is an Allergy:
Before we talk about Anaphylaxis, you might be wondering what exactly an allergy is. Maybe you or a loved one was recently diagnosed, or you received a notice from your child’s school about allergies and are a little confused. Basically, an allergy is caused by your body’s immune system mistaking an seemingly harmless material for something harmful. The body’s immune system is pretty impressive; it not only destroys any harmful pathogens that get past our skin and other external defenses, but it also creates antibodies that protect you should that same pathogen try and infect you again. This is why you only get certain diseases once, and it’s why vaccines work so well to protect against more harmful pathogens.
So with that in mind, an allergy occurs when that powerful immune response is turned against an inappropriate target. It is generally a totally harmless substance, or one that does not warrant the level of immune response it receives. Either way, the immune system treats it as though it’s a dangerous pathogen and manufactures antibodies against it. Most people are familiar with Hay Fever, which is an allergic reaction to various types of grass, weeds, or tree pollens. However, allergies can develop to just about anything you come into contact with, including cosmetics, proteins in foods, certain types of metals, medications, insect venoms, and other substances encountered naturally.
Anaphylaxis Can be Fatal:
While most allergic reactions are minor-to-moderate annoyances, Anaphylaxisis a different matter entirely. Also known as Anaphylactic Shock, it’s a systemic reaction that generally involves multiple body systems. When the immune system encounters an antigen (another name for allergen), it binds to the antigen and releases histamine and other compounds. These compounds cause the classic symptoms as they cause bronchial constriction, increase the leakage of fluids from blood vessels, and can cause depression of the heart muscle.
How Common is it?
In spite of what the media might have you believe, Anaphylaxis is still relatively uncommon. Generally, it affects 4-100 per 100,000 people, and you have a .05 – 2% lifetime risk of developing it. Of those who suffer from it, about 30% will have multiple attacks over their lifetimes. A worrisome trend in recent years is that Anaphylaxis is increasing due to food-related allergies; its numbers have grown from about 20 per 100,000 in the 1980s to 50 per 100,000 by the 1990s. Like other types of allergies, the exact reason behind why people develop these dangerous sensitivities is unclear. Although there have been a number of studies to try and learn the exact mechanisms behind allergy development, results aren’t always conclusive. There are some risk factors that may make certain individuals more prone to developing more serious allergic reactions, such as a history of Asthma or a family history of Anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis often starts off harmless enough, with mild symptoms such as a runny nose or minor skin rash, but rapidly progresses from there to more dangerous symptoms. Because Anaphylaxis can cause death so rapidly it’s important to know what its symptoms are. While not all symptoms may be present, these are the most commonly-encountered symptoms that will tell you the person requires medical intervention:
- Coughing or Wheezing
- Chest Tightness
- Fainting, dizziness, or weakness
- Severe hives or skin rash
- Runny or stuffy nose with sneezing
- Difficulty Breathing
- Rapid Heartbeat
- Lips or tongue that is swollen or itching
- Throat tightness, hoarseness, or difficulty speaking or swallowing
- Weak pulse
- Pale skin
- Vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach cramps
- A ‘sense of impending doom’
Anaphylaxis may be rapidly fatal, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be treated. A shot of epinephrine (adrenaline) should be administered as soon as possible once symptoms appear. Fortunately, most individuals who risk suffering from Anaphylaxis carry an Epi-pen with them at all times. An Epi-pen is a pen-shaped device that houses a needle and a dose of epinephrine. It is Available to Anaphylaxis sufferers by prescription. It should be injected into the thigh or deltoid when symptoms start to appear, and will reverse the symptoms within minutes. If administering the shot is delayed at all, a second shot might be necessary. Also, because the medicine can lose effectiveness over time, it’s important to make sure you have an up-to-date Epi-pen with you at all times.
As with any allergy, there are steps you can attempt to take is lessen your chances of having an anaphylactic reaction to an allergen you encounter. One step you can take is to simply avoid contact with that allergen; for example, if you are allergic to Penicillin you can let health care professionals know so they will flag your file and ensure you are not given or prescribed Penicillin. Or if you’re allergic to peanuts, you can avoid peanuts and any products made with them. This may prove a more difficult step with food allergies, and potential allergens can lurk in anything we eat. Even things you wouldn’t think contain those allergens. Another approach is to lessen sensitivity to the allergen by way of allergy shots or other types of exposure therapy. This method involves exposing a patient to tiny doses of an allergen, allowing them to build a tolerance, and then gradually increasing the amount until the patient’s reactions are either gone or no longer as severe.
Get Help by an experts in Anaphylaxis:
When it comes to allergic reactions, Anaphylaxis is as scary as it sounds. It can strike rapidly and cause death within a couple hours if not promptly treated. Fortunately, there are ways to treat the reaction before the symptoms become too severe, buying time for the patient to seek medical help from board certified allergy specialists. Please call our office now to get treatment at one of our Phoenix clinics now!