Condition: Anaphylaxis (brought on by food, medication, insect venom, or drugs)

Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to a trigger such as an allergy.

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What is

Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to a trigger such as an allergy. It can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to something you’re allergic to, such as peanuts or bee stings. Common anaphylaxis triggers include certain foods, some medications, insect venom and latex.

Causes of

Anaphylaxis is the result of the immune system, the body’s natural defence system, overreacting to a trigger. This shock can sometimes cause your blood pressure to suddenly drop or your airways to narrow. This is often caused by something you’re allergic to, but not always. Common anaphylaxis triggers include:

  • foods – including nuts, milk, fish, shellfish, eggs and some fruits
  • medicines – including some antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin
  • insect venom – particularly wasp and bee stings
  • general anaesthetic or contrast agents – dyes used in some medical tests to help certain areas of your body show up better on scans
  • latex – a type of rubber found in some rubber gloves and condoms

Symptoms of

Anaphylaxis symptoms usually occur between minutes of exposure to an allergen, or half-hour or longer after exposure and symptoms can include a rapid, weak pulse; a skin rash; or nausea and vomiting.

There are two main types of reaction which could occur:

Uniphasic – these come on quickly and symptoms get rapidly worse, but once treated, the symptoms go and don’t return.

Bi-phasic – these are reactions which may be mild or severe to start with, followed by a period of time when there are no symptoms, and then increasing symptoms with breathing and blood-pressure problems.

Tests for

The results of skin prick tests and blood tests can help the specialist identify the cause of anaphylaxis.

Treatment for

Anaphylaxis can require an injection of epinephrine (sometimes referred to as ‘pens’) containing epinephrine (known as adrenaline) which can be prescribed for people at risk.

If you experience attacks fairly frequently, your doctor may prescribe an oral steroid or oral antihistamine to help manage your condition.