Anaphylaxis (say "anna-full-ax-iss") is a life-threatening allergic reaction. It starts soon after you are exposed to something you are severely allergic to. You may have swelling, itching or a rash. Some people have trouble breathing, a tight feeling in their chest or dizziness. Some people feel anxious. Other people have stomach cramps, nausea or diarrhea. Some people lose consciousness ("pass out").
Many things can cause anaphylaxis. Some common causes include the following:
Call 911 to get emergency medical help, even if you do not feel very sick. Get your anaphylaxis kit. Inject yourself with epinephrine or have someone else do it. If your doctor has recommended it, take an antihistamine. If you stop breathing, you may need someone to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on you until help arrives.
If you have a severe allergic reaction, you might need medical help right away. An emergency anaphylaxis kit contains medicine to counteract your allergic reaction. This medicine is usually a drug called epinephrine that you inject into your arm or leg (or have a friend inject). Your doctor will prescribe a kit with the right dose of medicine and will teach you how to use it. Make sure your family, friends and coworkers also know how to use the kit. Sometimes your doctor will tell you to keep an antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (one brand name: Benadryl), in the kit too.
You should recover completely with treatment. Most people live a normal, full life. You can get back to your normal activities once you are feeling better. However, you should have someone stay with you for 24 hours after anaphylaxis to make sure another attack does not happen.
The following are some ways to help prevent a reaction:
If you are at risk of anaphylaxis, keep an emergency anaphylaxis kit with you at all times. Make sure the people around you, such as your family and friends, know how to use it.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff