Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. A severe allergic reaction can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to something a person is allergic to.
Anaphylaxis requires an injection of adrenaline (often done via an EpiPen) and an immediate trip to a hospital emergency department. If anaphylaxis isn’t treated right away, it can be fatal.
The most common triggers are food allergies, eg to peanuts, fish, shellfish and milk. Other triggers can include:
- certain medications, including antibiotics, aspirin and other over the counter pain relievers
- stings from bees and other insects
Anaphylaxis occurs quickly – often within minutes of exposure to a trigger. Always seek help, as it can take several hours for the full allergic reaction to occur.
Signs & symptoms of a severe allergic reaction
Most allergic reactions happen very quickly and may include some of the following:
- skin reactions, including hives, itching and flushed or pale skin
- very low blood pressure
- dizziness or fainting
- constriction of airways and a swollen tongue or throat
- wheezing and trouble breathing
- a weak and rapid pulse
- nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
Treatment with EpiPen (adrenaline)
Treatment for anaphylaxis is an adrenaline injection into the thigh muscle, often done using an EpiPen adrenaline auto-injector. EpiPen provides a safe method of injecting adrenaline without medical training or risk of needle stick injury. Antihistamines and anti-inflammatory steroids can be used after a reaction has been treated with adrenaline.
People who have experienced an anaphylactic reaction should always carry an EpiPen with them. There are two strengths of EpiPen – EpiPen Adult and EpiPen Junior – with the correct dose based on the child’s weight.
- Key points about anaphylaxis – Health Navigator
- Anaphylaxis resources and action plans – Allergy New Zealand
- Anaphylaxis diagnosis and treatment – Starship Children’s Hospital
- What is anaphylaxis – DermNet NZ
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