What’s Anaphylaxis? Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Last updated on February 24th, 2023 at 10:05 pm

5 minutes read.   


In this article:


Symptoms , Causes

Treatment , Prevention


FAQ , Conclusion

What’s Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe, systemic hypersensitivity reaction to venom that occur when your body comes in contact with certain things your immune cannot suppress, such as medication, food, plant food chemical or other chemicals, insect bites, or sting.

For some people with severe allergies, exposure to their allergen can result in a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis causes the immune system to release a flood of chemicals that can cause you to go into shock — blood pressure drops suddenly and the airways narrow, blocking breathing.

Anaphylaxis causes a series of symptoms, including a rash, low pulse, and shock, which is known as anaphylactic shock. This can be fatal if it isn’t treated immediately.

Once you’ve been diagnosed, your healthcare provider will likely recommend that you carry a medication called epinephrine with you at all times. This medication can stop future reactions from becoming life-threatening.

Signs and Symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis?

Symptoms usually occur immediately after you come into contact with the allergen.

These can include:

  • abdominal pain
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • coughing
  • rash
  • slurred speech
  • facial swelling
  • trouble breathing
  • low pulse
  • wheezing
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty swallowing
  • itchy skin
  • swelling in mouth and throat
  • nausea
  • shock


What Causes Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is caused by the inability of your immune to handle certain foreign substances.

As a result, it perceives it as an enemy and overreacts to it which makes your body produce antibodies to defend itself from these substances. In most cases, the body doesn’t react to the antibodies being released.

However, in the case of anaphylaxis, the immune system overreacts in a way that affects the point of contact or the whole body.

For instant, some individuals may have anaphylaxis due to:

  • medication
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • insect stings or bite
  • fish, shellfish
  • some kinds of plants chemicals like the ones found in raw yam and cocoyam,
  • some kind of plant leaf or stem
  • milk and sperm/semen allergy.
  • Other causes may include exercise and latex.


How Is Anaphylaxis Diagnosed?

You will most likely be diagnosed with anaphylaxis if the following symptoms are present:

  • mental confusion
  • throat swelling
  • weakness or dizziness
  • blue skin
  • rapid or abnormal heart rate
  • facial swelling
  • hives
  • low blood pressure
  • wheezing

What tests can diagnose anaphylaxis?

 An allergist (allergy specialist) may recommend testing your skin and blood. These tests can confirm the substances that cause severe reactions.

A skin test places a small amount of the allergen on your skin to see if it causes a reaction.


How is anaphylaxis treated?

If you’ve had allergic reactions to food or insect bites, your provider will prescribe an epinephrine (adrenaline) injection. Adrenaline treats the symptoms caused by the reaction.

You carry around the injector, about the size of a larger marker, wherever you go. If you experience an anaphylactic reaction, you inject yourself with the medication, usually in your thigh. These shots work quickly to reverse symptoms.

If symptoms don’t improve after five to 15 minutes, give yourself a second injection, if you have one available. After injecting yourself, get medical help or call 911 if you’re in the USA. 

If you’re in the UK call 999 or 112. In China call 1.110, 119, and 120. In India call 112 (or 100). In Nigeria call 112 or 199.

You can find out your location distress emergency number and save it in case the need arises.  You need a medical evaluation after having an anaphylactic reaction.

How can I tell if someone is having an anaphylactic reaction?

Look for these signs, usually involving the nose, mouth, skin, or digestive system:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Rash or swollen lips.
  • Signs of low blood pressure, such as a weak pulse, confusion, or loss of consciousness.
  • Stomach symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping.

What should I do if someone near me is going into anaphylactic shock?

If you are nearby when someone is having an anaphylactic reaction, call 911 or get medical help immediately. The person may need Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) as well.

Other ways to help include:

  • Lay the person flat, unless they’re having trouble breathing. In that case, help them sit up to make it easier to breathe.
  • If the person is unconscious, put them on their side. Open up their airway by lifting their chin.
  • What other anaphylaxis treatments might be necessary for emergencies?
  • If the person can’t breathe, medical professionals may need to:
  • Place a tube through the nose or mouth into the airway.
  • Perform emergency surgery, called a tracheostomy, to place the tube directly into the trachea (windpipe).

Other treatments providers may need to give for shock, include:

  • IV fluids.
  • IV medication to help the heart and circulatory system.
  • Antihistamines and steroids reduce symptoms after they’ve stabilized the person.


Can I prevent anaphylaxis?

If you have severe allergies, make sure you carry an epinephrine injection wherever you go.

Take steps to avoid your triggers like:

Food: Read food labels carefully. Ask restaurants what ingredients are in their dishes and how they prepare them. (Sometimes, restaurants may prepare an allergen-free dish in the same pot or pan as an ingredient you’re allergic to.)

Medications: Tell all healthcare providers if you’re allergic to any medications and if you’ve had allergic reactions in the past. They can make sure to prescribe a safe alternative for you and avoid anything you may be allergic to.

Insect stings: Don’t walk barefoot in the grass. It’s also smart not to drink from open cans since insects can lurk around the opening. Try to avoid wearing bright, flowery clothing or perfumes, hairsprays and lotions that could attract insects.


What Are the Complications of Anaphylaxis?

Some people may go into anaphylactic shock. It’s also possible to stop breathing or experience airway blockage due to the inflammation of the airways. Sometimes, it can cause a heart attack. All of these complications are potentially fatal.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is drug desensitization?

Sometimes, you need to take a medication that you’re allergic to. For example, certain chemotherapy medications to treat ovarian cancer may cause an allergic reaction. There may be no safe alternative.

A healthcare provider, usually an allergist or immunologist, can do drug desensitization. This helps your body temporarily accept the medicine.

The provider gives you a very small dose of the medicine. Over a few hours, they gradually increase the dose until you’ve received the full amount.

You continue to take the medicine regularly. Doing so keeps you in this temporary non-allergic state. Once you stop taking the medication, you’ll be allergic to it again.

What is venom immunotherapy?

This therapy helps you become less allergic to insect bites. An allergist injects small doses of the venom under your skin. You get a series of these shots, which decrease your sensitivity to the allergen.

What is oral immunotherapy for food allergies?

This therapy tries to desensitize someone to a food allergy by reducing the reaction. You do so under the care of a healthcare provider, usually an allergist.

The provider starts by giving you a small dose of the allergen, then slowly increases it over time. The goal is building your tolerance.

People who have oral immunotherapy should still carry their epinephrine injector with them. Researchers are investigating how effective this therapy is.


Anaphylaxis is a severe, systemic hypersensitivity reaction to venom that occur when your body comes in contact with certain things your immune cannot suppress, such as medication, food, plant food chemical or other chemicals, insect bites, or sting.

When people don’t get treatment in time, anaphylaxis may lead to unconsciousness and even death. But if you get prompt treatment with epinephrine, the outlook/prognosis is good. You’ll likely make a full recovery.

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