Charlottesville Allergy & Respiratory Enterprises
434-295-ASAP (2727) 1524 Insurance Lane, Suite B, Charlottesville, Virginia 22911

Anaphylaxis in Charlottesville

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is quite rapid in onset and may even be lethal. This medical emergency requires immediate treatment and then follow-up care by an allergist. Many individuals may not realize they have an allergy until they experience anaphylaxis. An allergist can examine, make a proper diagnosis and discuss the appropriate treatment plan.

Anaphylaxis is triggered when the immune system overreacts to an allergen (such as peanut or penicillin) causing mild to severe symptoms that affect various parts of the body. Symptoms usually appear within minutes to a few hours after eating a food, swallowing medication or being stung by an insect. Sometimes, however, these symptoms initially go away, and then return a few hours later; it is therefore important to call 911 and reach a hospital as soon as an anaphylactic reaction begins and to remain under medical observation for as long as the reaction and symptoms continue.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:

  • Breathing: wheezing, shortness of breath, throat tightness, cough, hoarse voice, chest pain/tightness, trouble swallowing, itchy mouth/throat, nasal stuffiness/congestion
  • Circulation: pale/blue color, low pulse, dizziness, lightheadedness/passing out, low blood pressure, shock, loss of consciousness
  • Skin: hives, swelling, itch, warmth, redness, rash
  • Stomach: nausea, pain/cramps, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Other: anxiety, feeling of "impending doom," itchy/red/watery eyes, headache, cramping of the uterus

The most dangerous symptoms are low blood pressure, breathing difficulty and loss of consciousness, all of which can be life threatening. If you have any of these symptoms, particularly after eating, taking medication or being stung by an insect, call 911 and seek medical care immediately. Don't wait to see if symptoms go away or get better on their own.

Anaphylaxis is commonly associated with the following allergens:

Foods: Any food can cause an allergic reaction, but foods that cause the majority of anaphylaxis are peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnut, cashew, Brazil nut), shellfish, fish, milk, eggs and preservatives.

Stinging insects: Insect sting venom from yellow jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets and fire ants can cause severe and even deadly reactions in some people.

Medications: Almost any medication can cause an allergic reaction. Common medications that cause anaphylaxis are antibiotics and anti-seizure medicines.

Latex: Some products made from natural latex contain allergens that can cause reactions in sensitive individuals. The greatest danger of severe reactions occurs when latex comes into contact with moist areas of the body or internal surfaces during surgery.

Exercise: Although rare, exercise can cause anaphylaxis. Oddly enough, it does not occur after every exercise session and in some cases, only occurs after eating certain foods before exercise.

Treatment and Prevention
If you (or anyone you are with) begin to have an allergic reaction, call for medical help to get to the closest emergency room. The sooner the reaction is treated, the less severe it is likely to become. Your physician may give an epinephrine (adrenalin) shot to relieve breathing problems and improve circulation, and other medications such as antihistamines (that reduce swelling and itch) or steroids (that further reduce the allergic response).

Once you've had an anaphylactic reaction, visit an allergist to get a proper diagnosis. The allergist will take your medical history and conduct other tests, if needed, to determine the exact cause of your reaction. Your allergist can provide information about avoiding the allergen as well as a treatment plan. Avoiding the allergen(s) is the main way to remain safe, but requires a great deal of education. In some cases, your allergist may suggest specific treatments, such as allergy shots (or immunotherapy) to virtually eliminate the risk of anaphylaxis from insect stings, or procedures that make it possible to be treated with certain medications to which you are allergic. Your allergist may also discuss the use of auto-injectable epinephrine. You may also be asked to wear a special ID that identifies you as having a severe allergy. If you have had an anaphylactic reaction, inform family, healthcare workers, employers and school staff about your allergy so they can watch for symptoms and help avoid your allergen.

(Information only; not intended to replace medical advice; adapted from AAAAI)