Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that occurs when the immune system overreacts to an allergen. It is a systemic response that can affect multiple organ systems throughout the body. Anaphylaxis is characterized by the sudden and rapid onset of symptoms that can progress rapidly and may become life-threatening if not treated promptly.
The defining feature of anaphylaxis is the involvement of two or more body systems, such as the skin, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, and gastrointestinal system. Common signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include skin reactions like hives and angioedema, difficulty breathing or wheezing, low blood pressure, rapid pulse, gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, and a feeling of impending doom.
Anaphylaxis can be triggered by various allergens, including certain foods, medications, insect stings, and latex, among others. The allergic reaction causes the release of chemicals, particularly histamine, from immune cells, leading to widespread inflammation and the characteristic symptoms of anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Prompt administration of epinephrine, a medication that helps reverse the allergic response, is vital in managing anaphylaxis. Medical professionals will provide additional treatments, such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, intravenous fluids, and oxygen, as needed.
People who have experienced anaphylaxis in the past or have known severe allergies are often advised to carry an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) and to be familiar with its use. Regular follow-up with an allergist or immunologist is essential to identify triggers, develop an emergency action plan, and manage the condition effectively.