Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic response. The immune system creates specific antibodies normally made to fight disease, but uses them to attack a substance that is normally harmless. The body becomes sensitized to this substance, and when the person is exposed to it again, the antibodies release large amounts of histamines. Histamines cause serious reactions throughout the body, including swelling, hives, a drop in blood pressure and dilated blood vessels. In severe cases, the person will go into anaphylactic shock. Blood pressure drops severely and swelling occurs in the bronchial tissues, causing the person to choke and lose consciousness. If anaphylactic shock is not treated immediately, it can be fatal.
Foods are the most common cause of anaphylaxis, and particularly peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, dairy products, eggs whites and sesame seeds. Wasp and bee stings, fish, latex, and certain medications can cause anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis begins with severe itching of the eyes or face and progresses rapidly to more serious symptoms including difficulty breathing and swallowing, abdominal pain, crams, vomiting, diarrhea, and hives on the body and in the throat.
How is anaphylaxis treated?
The main treatment for anaphylaxis is an injection of an adrenaline called epinephrine. If the patient goes into anaphylactic shock, emergency lifesaving measures will be needed.
Cleveland Clinic allergists work with patients who have experienced anaphylaxis to identify the allergen and provide epinephrine in a form that can be carried at all times.
Make an appointment now. Or call 216.444.3386 or 1.800.223.2273 Ext. 4-3386 to schedule an appointment with a Cleveland Clinic allergist.