Patient Information

Anaphylaxis

What is anaphylaxis? — Anaphylaxis is the term doctors use to describe a serious allergic reaction. It can happen very quickly and can cause death. Anaphylaxis can happen after a person:

  • Eats a food he or she is allergic to
  • Takes a medicine he or she is allergic to
  • Is stung by an insect he or she is allergic to
  • Touches something made out of latex if he or she is allergic to latex

Other triggers can also cause anaphylaxis.You might know if you are allergic to something. But you can also have anaphylaxis even if you don’t know you have an allergy.

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis? — Anaphylaxis can involve one or more parts of the body. The most common symptoms are:

  • Hives – raised, red patches of skin that are very itchy
  • Angioedema – a condition that causes puffiness, usually of the face, eyelids, ears, mouth, hands, or feet

Other symptoms can include:

  • Redness or itching of the skin (without hives)
  • Swelling or itching of the eyes
  • Runny nose or swelling of the tongue
  • Trouble breathing, wheezing, or a change in your voice
  • Throwing up or having diarrhea
  • Feeling dizzy or passing out
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With anaphylaxis, you can get very sick, very quickly. Your symptoms can also change. You may first get hives on your skin. Soon after that, you may throw up or have trouble breathing. Each time you have anaphylaxis, you can have different symptoms. Symptoms also differ from person to person.

The symptoms you have with anaphylaxis can be worse if you:

  • Have asthma
  • Have other health problems such as lung or heart disease

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — Yes. If you think you have anaphylaxis, call 9-1-1 for an ambulance. Do not try to get yourself to the hospital. Anaphylaxis can lead to death.

How is anaphylaxis treated? — At the hospital, the staff will give you treatments to stop the anaphylaxis and reduce your symptoms. The staff will also watch you to make sure your symptoms do not get worse.

People who have had anaphylaxis before often get a prescription for a device called an auto-injector (for example, the EpiPen®). This device carries one or two shots of a medicine called epinephrine. This medicine can help stop anaphylaxis. The auto-injector makes it easy for you to give yourself the shot. If you have an auto-injector, you should keep it with you at all times. Use it right away any time you think you are having anaphylaxis.

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Is there anything I can do to prevent anaphylaxis again? — Yes. If you have had anaphylaxis, you should talk with your doctor or nurse. If needed, your doctor can do tests to find out what you are allergic to.

Your doctor can help you make a plan to prevent future anaphylaxis. As part of your plan, you can:

  • Learn about the symptoms of anaphylaxis so you will know when to get help
  • Have an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times
  • Avoid foods, medicines, or insects you are allergic to
  • Wear a medical bracelet to let others know about your allergy

What will my life be like? — Many people who have had anaphylaxis are able to live normal lives. But you might need to make some changes in your life. You will need to avoid the things that can cause you to have anaphylaxis. You may need to carry medicine with you in case you have an allergic reaction.

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What if I have an allergy to penicillin? — Penicillin is a common medicine doctors use to treat infections. Some people are allergic to penicillin. They can have anaphylaxis if they take it. These people should not take any type of penicillin medicine.

Other people who think they have a penicillin allergy might be able to take it without a problem. If you have been told you are allergic to penicillin, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can do tests to find out more about your penicillin allergy. You may be able to take penicillin in the future if you need it.

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