Anaphylaxis: What You Need To Know About This Potentially Fatal Condition


As a designed first aid responder at your workplace, it’s imperative you’re prepared for anything and everything – from a small cut to a loss of consciousness. Most workplace accidents are relatively minor, but other problems such as anaphylactic shock (anaphylaxis) can be deadly.

It’s imperative that you understand the outcomes that come from this infrequent but serious reaction to allergies because it could save a person’s life.  The life of the next person you meet could be in your hands, so know the causes, the symptoms and what needs to be done.

It literally can mean the difference between life and death!

Anaphylaxis: What Is It and What Causes It?

One of the most important things to understand is that anaphylaxis is an extremely serious reaction to a substance. While, in most people, the substance is something foreign like a virus or bacteria; in others, the substance is common, but the body doesn’t see it that way.

In fact, the body’s immune system starts reacting to these substances, releasing various chemicals like histamine to combat the supposed problem. Anaphylaxis occurs when the entire body has an allergic reaction, but its effects can take several hours after the exposure to take hold.

This is called anaphylactic shock.

While there are several anaphylaxis triggers out there, there are cases where no known trigger can be found. This is called idiopathic anaphylaxis.  What are some of the typically seen anaphylaxis triggers?

Food Triggers

  • Tree nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts, etc.)
  • Dairy products (cheese, yogurt, milk, ice cream, etc.)
  • Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Sesame seeds
  • Eggs

There have been cases of people suffering from fruit allergies – grapes, strawberries, bananas, kiwi, etc.

Non-Food Triggers

There are also a plethora of non-food triggers such as:

  • Bee/wasp stings
  • Penicillin
  • Drugs
  • Rubber (latex)

While many people will have an allergic reaction from a bee or wasp sting, a minute number of them will suffer anaphylactic shock.

For some people, exercise can cause anaphylaxis. This can be an effect all its own or combined with other factors like drugs or food.

Is Anaphylaxis A Common Problem?

The problem in determining the prevalence of anaphylaxis is that many people who are experiencing a reaction are not being diagnosed properly.  Why is that? It’s because many of its symptoms mimic other health problems or conditions. For instance, a person who is suffering an anaphylaxis episode may look like they’re having a severe asthma attack.  There are some people who are treated in the hospital for a major allergic reaction, but the event isn’t recorded as being anaphylaxis.

Out of 10,000 people each year in the UK, there are at least three cases of anaphylaxis. Of the population roughly 500,000 of them experienced a reaction to a bee or wasp sting. Nearly 250,000 people under the age of 44 had an anaphylactic episode to nuts.

Around 20 people in the UK will die each year for anaphylactic reactions, with most having no known reason for it (also called idiopathic anaphylaxis).

What Are The Signs Of Anaphylaxis?

When it comes to an allergic reaction, the body will send out an array of signs and symptoms. It’s important to know what the degrees of anaphylaxis in order to know how to properly treat the patient:

Mild to Moderate Anaphylaxis Symptoms

  • Flushing of skin
  • Hives (rash) any part of the body
  • Stomach pain, vomiting or nausea
  • Swollen feet, hands, lips and eyes
  • Tingling sensation of the mouth

Severe Case Of Anaphylaxis Symptoms

  • Swelling of mouth and throat
  • Heart rate changes
  • Severe asthma or wheezing
  • Sudden weakness in the body (blood pressure drop)
  • Collapse or loss of consciousness

Bear in mind that a person who has anaphylaxis may not have all these symptoms.

What Treatments Are Used For Anaphylaxis?

People who may experience anaphylaxis are often prescribed auto-injectors that work to lessen the constriction that occurs in the smooth muscles of the lungs from the adrenaline the body releases. They also help to stimulate the heartbeat and reduce swelling of the lips and face.

Any person with a history of anaphylaxis should be prescribed an auto-injector and have it on hand at all times. There are three kinds of auto-injectors:

  • EpiPen (most people have heard of this auto-injector)
  • Jext
  • Emerade

How To Properly Use EpiPen

  • Pull the blue safety release cape off.
  • Firmly hold the pen and swing your arm four inches away.
  • Push the orange tip into your outer thigh.
  • The device will automatically administer the adrenaline when pushed into the thigh muscle.
  • Hold the device for 10 seconds
  • Once pressure has been alleviated, a cover will protect the needle tip.
  • Give your outer thigh a good massage for 10 seconds.

How To Properly Use Emerade

  • Take the cap off the needle.
  • Hold the device against the outer part of your thigh and the leg. When the adrenaline is being administered, you will hear a click.
  • Keep the pen in place for five seconds, ensuring that the full dose has injected.
  • Rub the spot for about 10 seconds to ensure the adrenaline works faster.

How To Properly Use Jext

  • Use your writing hand to administer Jext. Your thumb should be the closest finger to the yellow cap.
  • Pull the cap off
  • Firmly push the black tip into the outer thigh. When you hear a click, the injection has begun.
  • Hold Jext in place for 10 seconds. Remove it.
  • The needle shield will hide the need when the pen is removed.
  • Massage the area you placed Jext at for about 10 seconds.

Bear in mind that every injector isn’t the same and you should know how to use each one right. Always inform the paramedics – if called – that you used an auto-injector.

If you notice any sign of anaphylaxis, it’s imperative to give the sufferer an injection. Even if you’re wrong, the injection you give them won’t hurt them. If you’re not wrong, you’ll be saving their life.  If someone has a doctor-recommended anaphylaxis plan, make sure that you follow the directions. Should a person have an epinephrine shot, it’s always a good idea to have two of them.

  • If they are unable to inject themselves, you must do it.
  • Never wait for more serious reactions of anaphylaxis to give them the shot. Do it immediately. As the old saying goes, better safe than sorry.

What Should You Do If A Person Is Experiencing An Anaphylaxis Reaction?

It’s normal to feel fear and anxiety when a person is suffering a severe allergic reaction. However, it’s important for you to stay calm during this time. What you do can make the difference between life and death.  What should you be doing if a person is experiencing any of the above symptoms?

  • If a person is in anaphylactic shock, you should lie them down on the ground flat. They should not be standing or walking.
  • If they are having problems catching their breath, they can sit up to breathe.
  • If a person has lost consciousness and is not responding or breathing normally, start the CPR process. Make sure their body is placed in the recovery position.
  • Be sure to give them their adrenaline shot.

You also need to call the emergency line of your country right away. The ambulance will take them to the hospital for a four-hour observation.

Who’s Vulnerable To An Anaphylactic Reaction?

Any person who has ever had a bad allergic reaction previously, regardless of what caused it, is at higher risk for suffering another severe anaphylactic reaction. In fact, their next reaction could be even worse than previous ones. People who have asthma should see an allergy specialist, as asthma can put them at greater risk for severe anaphylaxis reactions.

For additional information about anaphylaxis, go to

Why Is Anaphylaxis Knowledge So Important?

Regardless of what industry you work in, it’s always a good idea to learn about anaphylaxis and the possible treatments. Anybody who works with children or who works has a first-aid responder for their job should take an anaphylaxis course. This course deals with prevention, symptom recognition and reaction treatments. It can also teach you the correct way to administer CPR and auto-injectors.

At the heart of it all, the courses can help you to save a life!

For those interested in food safety in the care environment, Online Care Courses also offer an Allergen Awareness course

3 thoughts on “Anaphylaxis: What You Need To Know About This Potentially Fatal Condition”

  1. It’s hard to find experienced people on this subject,
    but you seem like you know what you’re talking about!

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