Anaphylaxis is typically triggered by an immune system response to an allergen, which is a substance that the body perceives as harmful. When a person with a predisposition to allergies is exposed to an allergen, their immune system reacts abnormally, releasing a cascade of chemicals that can lead to anaphylaxis. Common triggers for anaphylaxis include:
- Foods: Some of the most common food allergens that can cause anaphylaxis include peanuts, tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, cashews), shellfish, fish, eggs, milk, and soy.
- Medications: Certain medications can trigger anaphylaxis in susceptible individuals, including antibiotics (such as penicillin), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen, and certain anesthetics.
- Insect stings: Insect venom from bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants can induce anaphylaxis in individuals who are allergic to these venomous stings.
- Latex: Some individuals may develop an allergic reaction to latex, commonly found in rubber gloves, balloons, condoms, and medical devices, which can trigger anaphylaxis.
It’s important to note that anaphylaxis can occur even in individuals who have had previous exposures to the allergen without any allergic reactions. The reasons why some individuals develop anaphylaxis while others do not are still not fully understood.
In addition to these common triggers, anaphylaxis can also be caused by other less common allergens, such as certain medications used in immunotherapy, exercise (in cases of exercise-induced anaphylaxis), or unknown triggers (idiopathic anaphylaxis).
It’s essential for individuals with known allergies or a history of anaphylaxis to be vigilant about avoiding triggers and to carry an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) with them at all times. Regular follow-up with an allergist or immunologist is crucial to identify triggers, provide appropriate education, and develop an emergency action plan for managing anaphylaxis.