Allergic reactions are quite common in people where the triggers are varied and the symptoms, varied. There are some rare cases where the victim may suffer from one of the most severe allergic reactions called anaphylaxis. When you suffer from anaphylaxis, you experience a severe allergic reaction that spreads quickly and causes life threatening symptoms in the body. The victim usually finds it difficult to breathe, and may experience shock that leads to death.
For anaphylaxis to start in the body you have to have been exposed to the trigger previously; this is referred to as sensitization. This means that though a bee sting may not cause severe allergic reactions at first, a second sting may lead to anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis usually occurs within seconds of exposure to the trigger; however sometimes it may also be delayed. Sometimes you may have been exposed numerous times to the trigger, without any reaction only to end up with anaphylaxis the next time you are exposed to the same trigger.
It is when the body’s immune system overreacts to an antigen on recognizing a foreign substance in the body that anaphylaxis occurs. The white blood cells produce antibodies when reacting with the antigen; and these antibodies circulate the bloodstream to attach to some cells of the body. Once the antibodies come in contact with an antigen, other cells start producing chemicals called ‘mediators’. An example of such a mediator is histamine. And it is this effect of these mediators that causes an allergic reaction in the body.
There are many triggers for anaphylaxis; and only a trace amount of this trigger is sufficient to start a severe allergic reaction. These triggers to severe allergic reactions may be prescription and over the counter medications, venom of stinging insects, food additives, substances like latex, some foods like shellfish, nuts and mil, dyes used in radiology procedures and transfusion of blood or blood products.
There are situations where the trigger of severe allergic reactions is not known too. It is usually people who suffer from hay fever, asthma and eczema who are more likely to suffer from anaphylactic reactions than those who don’t suffer from them.
The most threatening symptom to severe allergic reactions is difficulty in breathing and loss of consciousness that is due to swelling and/or spasms in the airways. Loss of consciousness here arises with low blood pressure, and is referred to as ‘shock’. In very rare cases, the heart may stop pumping and breathing can stop.
When suffering from severe allergic reactions, you should not try to ‘wait it out’ at home. Instead, go to the nearest emergency department or ambulance. While waiting for the ambulance, you have to remain calm, try to identify the cause of the reaction and take an antihistamine if you have no difficulty swallowing. If you have an epinephrine kit, inject yourself or have someone do it for you.