What Is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis, also known as an anaphylactic reaction, is a severe, immediate allergic reaction that generally affects more than one organ system. Many different allergens -- things that trigger an allergic reaction -- can cause an anaphylactic reaction, including insect bites, medications, and certain foods. Peanuts, eggs, cow's milk, fish, and shellfish are common food allergens that can trigger anaphylaxis. If treatment is not started right away, anaphylaxis can become life-threatening.
Symptoms and Signs of Anaphylaxis
The first symptoms of anaphylaxis often include an itching, burning, or tingling feeling in the mouth, lips, and throat. The mucous membranes in the mouth and throat may swell, so that the person has difficulty swallowing and breathing. The allergen may trigger an asthma-like reaction in which the airway tightens up, making it even harder to breathe. There may be swelling around the eyes, and a generalized rash can appear all over the body in the form of hives.
Anaphylaxis can affect the circulation, and the child's skin can become pale, cold, and sweaty. The heart rate increases as blood pressure falls, and the child will be in danger of fainting. Other signs of anaphylaxis include stomachaches, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and lethargy.
Anaphylaxis can quickly develop into a life-threatening condition. The effects of anaphylaxis can lead to respiratory and circulatory failure and shock. The patient may lose consciousness and be in danger of dying unless treatment is started immediately.
How to Prevent Anaphylaxis
It is difficult to prevent anaphylaxis if a child that has no known allergies or has not previously suffered an anaphylactic reaction. But always be aware of an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis if your child has taken a new medication or eaten a new food.
If your child has had an anaphylactic or serious allergic reaction before, or if your child has a known allergy to certain foods or to stings from bees or wasps, ask your doctor whether the child should carry an EpiPen or a dose of epinephrine. Find out if your child should wear an alert bracelet that lists his severe allergies. If your child does have an allergy to bee or wasp stings, ask your doctor about for a preventative treatment of allergen immunotherapy, a series of allergy shots that contain small amounts of bee or wasp venom. The shots are given over a period of time, usually over two to five years, that make antibodies to reduce the risk of severe reactions to insect stings.
Of course, always tell the doctor if your child has previously suffered an allergic reaction to medications or anesthetics in the past. If your child has a food allergy, it is important to alert friends, relatives, and your child's school.
Treatment for Anaphylaxis
Always call 911 immediately to get medical attention, since this condition can worsen rapidly and become life-threatening.
Children who have previously had an anaphylactic or serious allergic reaction should always carry an EpiPen (or a dose of epinephrine) that can be injected by the child or a parent at the first sign of anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is a hormone that helps to open the airways, improve breathing and blood pressure, and decrease the allergic reaction in the body. Whenever epinephrine is used, the child should be taken to an emergency room immediately.
While waiting for the doctor or ambulance, get other people to help in case resuscitation should become necessary. Loosen any tight clothing and calm your child, who will be very scared and may not understand what is happening. Let your child sit up straight, or nearly straight, to help his breathing. If your child vomits, lay him on his side. If he seems listless or shows signs of circulation failure, such as pale, clammy, and cool skin, lay him down and raise his legs.
If your child loses consciousness, watch him carefully in case he stops breathing. If the child is not breathing, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If you are unable to detect signs of circulation, administer chest compressions. Parents of children who have had an anaphylactic reaction should take a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) course to be more prepared in these rare situations.
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