Most allergic reactions are localized or confined to the part of the body that actually had contact with the allergen. Systemic allergic reactions, however, spread to other parts of the body. In the most severe cases, the whole body becomes affected.
What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening systemic allergic reaction. It develops quickly, with the symptoms becoming their most intense 30 to 60 minutes after exposure to the allergen. Anaphylaxis is most commonly triggered by insect stings, certain medications, or food.
The initial symptoms are those of a typical allergic reaction: The patient develops such symptoms as itching and blotchy, raised and reddened skin. As the condition worsens, other parts of the body, like the respiratory system, are affected. The patient then starts developing symptoms like the following:
• Swelling or tightening of the throat
• Trouble breathing
• Feeling of tightness in the chest
• GI tract symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
• Neurological symptoms like anxiety, slurred speech, or confusion
• Irritated, reddened, watery eyes
In the worst cases, the patient can slip into anaphylactic shock, which is caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure.
In most cases, the patient’s symptoms clear up within a couple of hours. In biphasic anaphylaxis, which affects roughly 20 percent of patients, the anaphylaxis seems to clear up only to return several hours or even days later. Biphasic anaphylaxis happens often enough that some hospitals will keep patients for an observation period after treating them for anaphylaxis. In protracted anaphylaxis, which is mercifully rare, the patient’s symptoms can last for over a week.
How is Anaphylaxis Treated?
Since anaphylaxis can be life-threatening, a person in the middle of an anaphylactic reaction needs to go to a hospital immediately. If the patient doesn’t know what caused their anaphylaxis, their doctor should refer them to an allergist for testing to find out.
Depending on the results of the tests, the patient can take steps to avoid the allergen, thus avoiding systemic allergic reactions. The patient will also have to start keeping a supply of epinephrine handy. Epinephrine is a medication used to reduce the symptoms of anaphylaxis. It can raise the patient’s blood pressure, ease breathing, reduce hives and swelling, and stimulate the heart. It is not a true cure, however; it just stabilizes the patient’s condition until they get to the hospital.
You can learn more about systemic allergic reactions, including ways to address them, during an appointment with our experts at Columbia Asthma & Allergy Clinic. Contact us today for a consultation in Oregon, Washington, or California.