Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction that can occur when people are exposed to foods they're allergic to, such as peanuts or shellfish. Symptoms can develop within minutes of exposure, or set in after an hour or more.

Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis can appear anywhere in the body. They include:

Skin

  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Itching

Mouth

  • Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat
  • Itching

Respiratory system

  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Congestion
  • Cough

Cardiovascular system

  • Decrease in blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate

Gastrointestinal system

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

Neurological system

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

If you develop any of these symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek emergency care.

Always carry an epinephrine auto-injector for serious allergic reactions. A combined syringe and needle, auto-injectors are designed to release a single dose of medication when pressed against your skin. Make sure that:

  • Your auto-injector is not expired
  • You know how to use your auto-injector
  • Your family and close friends know how to use your auto-injector in case you're not able to use it yourself

Work with your doctor to create a detailed plan that you and your loved ones can refer to if you come into contact with an unexpected allergen.

If you develop any of the symptoms of anaphylaxis, first inject yourself with epinephrine, then seek emergency medical help immediately. Emergency medical personnel may give you one or more of the following treatments:

  • Antihistamines to reduce swelling of airways and improve breathing
  • Albuterol (ProAir HFA, Ventolin HFA, others) to help relax airway muscles

To reduce your chances of having an anaphylactic reaction, work with an allergist to identify your food triggers and actively avoid them.

Mar. 04, 2014