Allergic reactions can range from mild symptoms to serious consequences including death. Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Understand it today and survive an attack anytime.
If you have been found to be allergic to insect bites/stings, food or medications, you may be at risk of anaphylaxis. Exposure to the offending allergen, be it the venom from a bee sting or a small peanut, can lead to anaphylaxis within minutes. According to Dr Gabriel Cheong, Senior Physician at the Emergency Department of Raffles Hospital, anaphylaxis requires an immediate trip to the doctor’s clinic as it can lead to unconsciousness or even death if treatment is not promptly administered.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:
- Skin reactions including hives and itching, flushed or pale skin
- Constricted airways and a swollen tongue or throat, causing wheezing and trouble breathing
- A weak and rapid pulse
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
- Dizziness or fainting, loss of consciousness
Our immune system produces antibodies to defend us against foreign substances. “This is important to defend against harmful organisms,” says Dr Cheong, “But some people’s immune systems overreact to substances that do not usually cause an immune reaction in the first place. When this occurs, our immune system sets off a chemical chain reaction, leading to allergy symptoms. For most people, allergy symptoms are not life-threatening. But in some people this reaction leads to anaphylaxis. Thankfully, anaphylaxis is not common, though those with a history of allergies or asthma are at higher risk. This is especially so for those who have had a serious allergic reaction or an anaphylactic reaction before.
Doctor, I’ve a severe allergic reaction!
During a life threatening anaphylactic attack, you should seek emergency medical help right away as your airway may become obstructed, leading to respiratory and cardiac failure. You will require immediate emergency treatment. If the person having the attack carries an epinephrine auto-injector, you should administer the shot right away. However, even if symptoms improve after the injection, a visit to the emergency department is still necessary as symptoms may recur. If you had a severe allergy attack or any signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis before, you should make an appointment to see your doctor to properly evaluate, diagnose and manage it. Future reactions may be more severe than the first.
Medications that are helpful in treating an anaphylaxis attack include:
- Epinephrine (adrenaline)
- Injected antihistamines and steroids
- A beta agonist (such as albuterol)
- Oral steroid medications
You can consider immunotherapy, a long-term treatment, if your anaphylactic reaction is triggered by insect stings. In immunotherapy, low doses of the offending allergen are injected into your body over time to reduce its allergic response and prevent a severe reaction in the future. Unfortunately, in most other cases there is no way to treat the underlying immune system condition that can lead to anaphylaxis. But you can take steps to prevent a future attack – and be prepared in the event one does occur.
Prevention Dr Cheong recommends some simple steps you can take to prevent anaphylaxis by avoiding the substances that cause the reaction:
- Indicate you have an allergy to specific drugs or substances by putting on a medical alert necklace or bracelet.
- Have an emergency kit with prescribed medications available. Your doctor can advise you on the appropriate contents. This may include an epinephrine auto injector. Make sure your auto injector has not expired.
- If you’re allergic to stinging insects, exercise caution when they’re nearby. Wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers. Avoid bright colours and don’t wear perfumes or colognes. Stay calm, move away slowly and avoid slapping at the insect.
- Avoid wearing sandals or walking barefoot in the grass if you’re allergic to insect stings.
- If you have specific food allergies, carefully read the labels of all the foods you buy. Manufacturing processes can change, so it’s important to periodically recheck the labels of foods you commonly eat. When eating out, ask about ingredients in the food, and ask about food preparation because even small amounts of the food you’re allergic to can cause a serious reaction.
If you observe someone having an allergic reaction with signs of anaphylaxis:
1. Call 995 or 6311 1555 for Raffles Hospital’s emergency hotline.
2. Check if the person is carrying any special medication to treat an allergic attack, such as an auto-injector of epinephrine. Administer the drug as directed – usually by pressing the auto injector against the person’s thigh and holding it in place for several seconds. Massage the injection site for 10 seconds to enhance absorption. After administering epinephrine, have the person take an antihistamine pill if he/she is able to do so without choking. Look for a medical emergency ID bracelet or necklace.
3. The person should be lying on his/her back with the feet higher than the head.
4. Loosen any tight clothing and cover the person with a blanket. Don’t give him/her anything else to drink.
5. If there’s vomiting or bleeding from the mouth, turn the person on his/her side to prevent choking. 6. If there are no signs of circulation (i.e. breathing, coughing or movement), begin CPR.
This article is provided by Raffles Medical Group. For more information visit https://www.rafflesmedicalgroup.com/