In most cases, people with allergies develop mild to moderate symptoms, such as watery eyes, a runny nose or a rash. But sometimes, exposure to an allergen can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. This severe reaction happens when an over-release of chemicals puts the person into shock. Allergies to food, insect stings, medications and latex are most frequently associated with anaphylaxis.
A second anaphylactic reaction, known as a biphasic reaction, can occur as long as 12 hours after the initial reaction.
Anaphylaxis symptoms occur suddenly and can progress quickly. The early symptoms may be mild, such as a runny nose, a skin rash or a “strange feeling.” These symptoms can quickly lead to more serious problems, including:
An anaphylactic reaction should be treated immediately with an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline). Doses, available by prescription, come in an auto-injector that should be kept with you at all times.
Food: including peanuts, tree nuts such as walnuts and pecans, fish, shellfish, cow’s milk and eggs.
Latex: found in disposable gloves, intravenous tubes, syringes, adhesive tapes and catheters. Health care workers, children with spina bifida and genitourinary abnormalities and people who work with natural latex are at higher-risk for latex-induced anaphylaxis.
Medication: including penicillin, aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, and anesthesia.
Insect sting: with bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants being the most likely to trigger anaphylaxis.