When a person experiences severe allergic reactions, it is a condition known as anaphylaxis. Mostly, insect bites or stings and food are the causes of this condition. It is recommended to use an epinephrine injector if you experience anaphylaxis symptoms because going into anaphylactic shock can be dangerous. Several treatment methods are available to treat this condition.

What is Anaphylaxis?

This is a life-threatening condition if you do not receive treatment immediately. Some people may experience anaphylaxis due to other causes including medicines, latex, and others. Epinephrine is the only medication used to treat this health condition. It comes into an injection shot that is administered into the thigh. In any case, even if you receive this injection, you should go to the emergency room (ER). Commonly, with treatment people fully recover.

In addition, when a person experiences an allergy, the body’s defense (immune system) releases certain chemicals (such as histamine). The most common anaphylaxis symptoms include swelling, wheezing, shortness of breath, and swallowing problems. Someone can experience an anaphylactic reaction at once in different parts of the body.

However, it is advised to call 911 or go to the nearest ER if you or someone near you experience this reaction even if receive an epinephrine shot.

Anaphylaxis Stages

An allergic reaction usually occurs fast and suddenly and with certain mild symptoms such as hives or flushed skin. Healthcare professionals divide the stages of anaphylaxis into 4 groups. For example:

  • 1 – The first stage usually provokes skin rash, redness, itching, or hives symptoms.
  • 2 – During this stage, an individual may experience certain moderate symptoms including skin rash and hives or mild swelling in the lips or tongue.
  • 3 – The third stage is severe and people usually experience trouble breathing, extensive swelling, weak pulse, dizziness, and others. In other words, a person with stage 3 anaphylaxis experience an anaphylactic shock.
  • 4 – This is the last stage of anaphylaxis and it can be life-threatening because a person experiences loss of consciousness, abnormal blood to essential organs, and others. In case someone who experiences this anaphylaxis stage does not get the treatment immediately, it can lead to death.

How Common is Anaphylaxis?

It is considered a rare allergic reaction because, in the United States, people have a 0.05%-2% chance of experiencing anaphylaxis.


The primary anaphylaxis symptoms are skin itching and hives. However, within several minutes, you may notice other symptoms. For example:

  • Hives
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the throat, lips, and tongue
  • Red rash
  • Swallowing problems
  • Cramps
  • Chest tightness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing
  • Doom or dread feelings

Furthermore, if you do not get immediate treatment or allergy medicines, certain life-threatening symptoms can occur. Check some examples below:

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Unconsciousness
  • Sudden weakness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Light-headedness or confusion is often caused by a drop in blood pressure

In most cases, the symptoms begin within 30 minutes after an allergic reaction happens. For example, if you eat a food you are allergic to (such as peanuts) or get an insect sting, the symptoms can start within one hour.


The main anaphylaxis cause is food allergies. Check below some foods that can provoke severe allergic reactions:

  • Soy
  • Shellfish (such as shrimp and lobster)
  • Tree nuts (such as walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, and cashews)
  • Wheat
  • Seeds (such as sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and others)
  • Peanuts
  • Eggs

Check below for other substances that also can cause an allergic reaction:

  • Latex (found in disposable gloves, catheters, adhesive tapes, and others)
  • Insect stings from wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, bees, and others
  • Some medicines and substances (including Penicillin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, and dye used for CT scans

Risk Factors

Those who suffer from asthma or recently experienced a severe allergic reaction are more likely to develop anaphylaxis. If you know you are allergic, it is recommended to have always an epinephrine shot with you.

In addition, many people think pollen can provoke anaphylaxis. However, it can provoke allergic symptoms but the chances are very low that an individual will experience anaphylaxis due to pollen or other environmental allergies.


Severe anaphylaxis cases are dangerous, especially if you have some existing conditions such as heart or lung disease (including asthma). It is considered a medical emergency and should be taken seriously.


It is recommended to visit a healthcare professional if you have an allergic reaction or if you suspect you have one. Doctors often diagnose this condition based on symptoms. Moreover, they can direct you to an allergist who will perform certain tests that will help to confirm the diagnosis. It is important to learn how to manage the symptoms and how to avoid the allergy triggers. Additionally, physicians can order you to do some tests to determine the allergy triggers or to confirm an allergy. Commonly, they perform skin and blood tests.


Healthcare providers usually prescribe an epinephrine injection if you have allergic reactions to food or insect stings. In some cases, people take 2 injections with them if they need an increased dose to lessen the symptoms. Administer the medicine into a large muscle (such as the upper outer thigh) because epinephrine works quickly and helps to reduce the symptoms in case you experience an anaphylactic reaction.

Thereafter, go to an emergency room or call 911 regardless you receive the injection. If you do not notice any improvements, you can administer the second injection. That’s why you can take 2-3 injections always with you. Thus, it is very important to get medical care after an anaphylactic reaction.

What Other Anaphylaxis Treatment may be Necessary in Emergencies?

In case the patient cannot breathe, physicians can place a tube through the nose or mouth or perform an emergency surgery (tracheostomy) to place the tube directly into the trachea (windpipe). Additionally, they can also prescribe IV fluids, IV medicines (used to strengthen the heart and circulatory system), antihistamines, and steroids.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is biphasic anaphylaxis?

This anaphylaxis type occurs when you experience a second wave of symptoms when first disappear. These symptoms can last for a few hours to days. Approximately 20% of people who experience anaphylaxis also get biphasic anaphylaxis.

Can Benadryl stop anaphylaxis?

This medication is usually used to lessen mild non-anaphylactic allergic symptoms (such as hay fever). In other words, it cannot be used as a substitute for epinephrine. Consult with your doctor for more details.

Is it possible to prevent anaphylaxis?

Yes, you can prevent this allergic reaction by reducing the risk of accidental exposure to allergens. For example:

  • Food – It is advised to read the labels and ask restaurants about food ingredients and how they prepare them. In case you have an allergic child, you should inform the child’s school about it or other caretakers.
  • Medicines – There are some medications that can provoke allergic reactions. Doctors may prescribe other medicines that will not cause it.
  • Insect stings – You should not walk barefoot in the grass. It is advised also to avoid wearing bright, flowery clothes, perfumes, hairsprays, lotions, and others that can potentially attract insects. Physicians may prescribe a venom immunotherapy to treat people with insect stings allergies.

Ask your healthcare professional if you have any other questions.

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