Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to insect bites like bee stings, food, or medication that should be treated right away.
It causes your immune system to release a flood of chemicals that can cause you to go into shock. Your blood pressure drops suddenly and your airways narrow, blocking breathing. Signs and symptoms include a rapid, weak pulse; a skin rash; and nausea and vomiting.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis
Symptoms usually occur within minutes of exposure to an allergen. They include:
- Skin reactions, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Constriction of your airways and a swollen tongue or throat, which can cause wheezing and trouble breathing leading to death
- A weak and rapid pulse
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
- Dizziness or fainting
What to do
A person having an anaphylactic attack should be given an epinephrine injection right away and then sent to the emergency department (even if the symptoms improved after the injection) to make sure symptoms do not recur.
Who’s at risk
If you’ve had an anaphylactic reaction before, you have a higher risk of having another one. You also have a higher risk if you have a family history of anaphylaxis or have asthma.
People who have had an anaphylactic attack before would usually carry with them their own epi-pens wherever they go so that in an emergency, they can quickly jab themselves to swiftly calm down the allergic reaction and swelling to prevent further complications or death.
What can bring on anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis happens when you have an antibody, something that usually fights infection, that overreacts to something harmless like food. It might not happen the first time you come in contact with the trigger, but it can develop over time.
The most common cause of anaphylaxis in children is food. For an adult it is medication.
Food that can trigger anaphylaxis include:
Less common triggers of anaphylaxis include stings like bee or wasp stings, pollen, and latex found in hospital gloves, balloons, and rubber bands.
Anaphylaxis can also be triggered by medication like antibiotics or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). This is why doctors keep a careful record of patients’ allergies so as to avoid giving medications that cause an allergic reaction in certain of their patients.
Ms Ho Ching advised that “folks who have had the very severe anaphylactic type of allergic reactions to anything, or who are carrying their own epi-pens on medical advice” should not take the COVID-19 vaccinations for now.
“In any case, the possibility of a serious allergic or other reaction is why doctors would often keep a patient for observation for 15-30 minutes even after the flu or other vaccine jabs,” she wrote.