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First Aid Guide: Dealing with Anaphylaxis

Team AckoJan 27, 2023

Commonly, people get rashes, itching, or swelling after exposure to something they are allergic to. In cases of Anaphylaxis, this is accompanied by tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, or even loss of consciousness. Thus, it’s crucial to take prompt action in such cases. Read ahead to know more about how to deal with Anaphylaxis from a first-aid standpoint.

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Contents

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What is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a clinical term used to refer to an extremely severe allergic reaction, which can be life-threatening if there is any delay in intervention.

Some individuals, when exposed to a certain substance by any route (through food, by breathing, during IV therapy, etc.), develop an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction is the body mounting an immune response against any substance, which is usually harmless to most people. It mediates this response through several types of white blood cells in the body and releases chemicals like histamine which contribute to the symptoms of allergy. 

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. The immune system is hypersensitive to a particular substance, which results in a massive immune response. Chemical mediators like cytokines and interleukins drastically increase which causes damage to healthy tissues in the body.

This results in the body going into a condition called shock, wherein the blood supply to vital organs is compromised. This results in organ failure. Anaphylaxis is a serious, life-threatening, potentially fatal condition that can progress within minutes to hours. 

The most common allergens that cause Anaphylaxis include:

  • Drugs: Medications are a common cause of Anaphylaxis. Many of these medications are usually administered for the first time to treat a particular disease, and it can happen to anyone without any forewarning. Common drugs that can exacerbate Anaphylaxis include antibiotics like penicillins, cephalosporins, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, general anaesthetic agents, chemotherapy drugs, and contrast agents used for scans. 

  • Insect bites: Particularly stings from bees, wasps, and ants are common causes of Anaphylaxis.

  • Food allergens: Common food items that can induce Anaphylaxis include peanuts, shellfish, eggs, milk, wheat, and nuts. Usually, the reaction happens at first exposure, and typically in childhood. 

  • Latex hypersensitivity can result in Anaphylaxis.

Risk factors for Anaphylaxis

Individuals who suffer from previously diagnosed allergic conditions like asthma, eczema, hay fever, etc., are at a higher risk for anaphylactic reactions as well. 

A rare disorder of the white blood cells called Mastocytosis is a risk factor for Anaphylaxis in those who have it. It is a condition where there is an excess of mast cells in the blood, which are specific cells involved in mounting an immune response to a foreign substance.

Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a condition that progresses within minutes to hours, depending on the route of exposure. Symptoms of Anaphylaxis include:

  • Skin reactions like hives, redness, itching, flushed or pale skin

  • Dizziness

  • Light-headedness

  • Breathing difficulty

  • Wheezing

  • Noisy breathing

  • Swelling of lips and tongue resulting in obstruction of airway

  • Severe, crampy abdominal pain

  • Diarrhoea

  • Vomiting

  • Drop in blood pressure

  • Weak, thready pulse

  • Loss of consciousness

Diagnosis of Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is an emergency condition. If a person develops any of the above-mentioned symptoms after being exposed to a common allergen, you must immediately call for help. Also, if a person has an established allergy, and suddenly develops severe symptoms, they may be having an anaphylactic reaction.

In healthcare settings, Anaphylaxis is a clinical diagnosis based on the history of events and tell-tale signs and symptoms that correlate with it. Laboratory investigations targeted at diagnosing Anaphylaxis are of little use; however, your doctor may order a series of tests to assess the extent of damage your organs may have suffered due to the anaphylactic reaction.

Quick action: First aid for Anaphylaxis

These are some of the important interventions that can be carried out to provide first aid during an anaphylactic reaction.

  • Call for help immediately. Call for an ambulance, or rush the patient to an emergency room of a hospital without causing any delay. This is an evolving condition that progressively worsens, so any hesitation in accessing trained professionals can result in significant damage and even loss of life. 

  • Make sure the person is lying flat. Do not place a pillow under their head as it can block their airway. If they are unconscious, you can roll them on their left side, with their left arm stretched out supporting the head, and both legs bent at the knee (also called recovery position). You can also have them sit upright with their legs stretched if they are having difficulty breathing. 

  • Check if they are breathing. Check for a pulse in their hand by using three fingers to palpate your wrist just underneath the thumb below your palm. Ask them if they have any established allergies. Check if they are wearing a band with allergy information, or have a card with this information on their person. 

  • Ask if they have an Epipen. This is a pen-like device that is an autoinjector of a life-saving medication called Epinephrine that is used to prevent the progression of the reaction. If they are not oriented/conscious enough to respond, check if an allergy kit or pen is a part of their belongings. 

  • Ask them if they need help in using the Epipen. It is an autoinjector that is usually used at the thigh. The device will automatically eject a predetermined dose of Epinephrine or Adrenaline when used. If you are administering it, press the device against the thigh of the person to deliver the dose.

  • Loosen any tight clothing. If a blanket is available, it may be used to lightly cover them up.

  • Make sure there is no crowding around the affected person.

  • Do not give them anything orally, including water. They may vomit, and choke resulting in more harm. 

  • If the person is unconscious and has no pulse, you should start performing CPR. If you do not have previous experience, performing continuous chest compressions by exerting effort over the chest alone can be life-saving. Do not attempt to provide mouth-to-mouth breathing in this case, as there may be a complete blockage of the airway due to internal swelling. 

Prevention of Anaphylaxis

As always, prevention is better than cure. If you know you are allergic to a particular substance, make sure you do not come into contact with it. 

  • Read food labels and menus carefully. Always ask about any possible allergens in your food when eating out. 

  • Avoid walking barefoot and generally visiting an area where you may be at a higher risk of exposure to venoms of bees, wasps, ants, etc. Wearing long sleeves and using bug repellants also helps. 

  • Wear a medical information bracelet or necklace, or carry a card on your person at all times so first responders have a clue as to what could have been the cause of a sudden reaction. 

  • If you have a history of severe allergies, carry an emergency kit or EpiPen with you at all times. This can save your life in the situation of an anaphylactic reaction.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common queries and their resolution related to Anaphylaxis.

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How is Anaphylaxis treated?

Anaphylaxis is treated using adrenaline or epinephrine only. It cannot be treated by any over-the-counter medications.

What substances can cause Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis can occur as a result of many substances including certain medication, foods such as shellfish or peanuts, or insect bites.

Can Anaphylaxis be prevented?

The only way to prevent Anaphylaxis is to avoid exposure to the allergens. Make sure to know the ingredients in the food you eat and to cover up when you go outdoors to avoid serious allergies.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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