About Anaphylaxis

About Anaphylaxis

Pronounced...anna - fill - axis...

Anaphylaxis is a serious, potentially life-threatening type of allergic reaction. Symptoms can start within seconds or minutes of exposure to the food or substance you are allergic to, called allergy trigger or allergen.

Anaphylaxis is the result of your body's immune system overreacting to a harmless substance, such as certain types of food.

The body reacts and releases chemicals to protect itself. This reaction can produce life-threatening symptoms.

Anaphylaxis can be described as a rapidly developing, severe, life-threatening systemic allergic reaction, in which the immune system responds to otherwise harmless substances, and can result in death. The most common causes of anaphylaxis include food, drugs, and insect stings (bees, wasps).2

The reaction may begin within minutes of exposure and can rapidly progress to cause airway constriction, skin and intestinal symptoms, and altered heart rhythms. In severe cases, it can result in complete airway obstruction, shock, and death. Anaphylaxis can affect several body systems simultaneously. The skin is involved in 80% of anaphylactic incidents in the form of itching, a skin rash, and generalised redness or swelling under the skin’s surface (angioedema). In other cases the respiratory system may be involved, in the form of irritation and inflammation inside the nose (acute rhinitis) or asthma; the digestive tract (nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps or diarrhoea); or the cardiovascular system (with palpitations, increased heart rate or low blood pressure) may be involved. These may lead to dizziness, loss of consciousness, and in the worst scenario, to respiratory or cardiac arrest.2

Food allergy is a growing public health concern, affecting more than 17 million people in Europe alone. 3.5 million European sufferers are younger than 25 years old and the sharpest rise in food allergies is amongst children and young people. Furthermore, the number of severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), due to food allergies, occurring in children is also increasing.2

What treatments exist for food allergies and anaphylaxis?

The only way to avoid an allergic reaction is to avoid the foods that cause the reaction. However, accidental exposure is common and can cause a reaction. For a minor allergic reaction, over-the-counter or prescribed anti-histamines may help reduce symptoms. These drugs can be taken after exposure to an allergy-causing food to help relieve itching or hives. However, anti-histamines cannot treat a severe allergic reaction, and the occurrence of severe reactions is difficult to predict. For anaphylaxis, the administration of intramuscular adrenaline is the first-line treatment. There is ongoing research to find better treatments to reduce food allergy symptoms and prevent allergy attacks. Currently there is no established treatment that can prevent or completely relieve symptoms. Although some promising treatments are under development, such as oral tolerance induction protocols for some foods, further research is needed to ensure the effectiveness and safety of these treatment methods.2

2. European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI)

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