Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. It can be life threatening. It needs to be treated right away.
Anaphylaxis is caused by the immune system overreacting to allergens or triggers. It is not always known what triggers it. Common triggers are:
- Foods and food additives, such as:
- Peanuts, treenuts, and seeds
- Fish and shellfish
- Eggs and cow's milk
- Insect stings or bites from bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants
- Medicines, such as certain types of:
- Seizure medicines
- Muscle relaxants
- Opioid pain medicines
- Cancer medicines
- Blood transfusions
Allergic Reaction to Medication (Hives)
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Things that may raise the risk are:
- Previous anaphylaxis
Family or personal
hay fever, or
- Exposure to an allergen
- Certain immune system problems
Sensitivity to latex, more common in:
- Workers who use latex gloves
- Patients exposed to latex gloves or devices from health care
Symptoms often occur within minutes after contact with an allergen. Some may happen hours later. They may be mild or severe enough to cause death. Symptoms may be:
- Warmth or redness of skin
- Swelling, redness, stinging or burning—especially on the face, mouth, eyes, or hands
- Lightheadedness, headache, or pounding heartbeat
- Pale skin or blue skin color
- Problems breathing or swallowing
Nausea, vomiting, cramping,
diarrhea, or belly pain
- Loss of consciousness
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to make a diagnosis. Blood and urine tests may also be done.
You may be referred to a doctor who treats allergies.
Anaphylaxis needs medical care right away, including:
An epinephrine (adrenaline) injection to help:
- Open airways
- Narrow blood vessels
- Stop itching and hives
- Ease stomach cramps
- Corticosteroids or antihistamines—to reduce inflammation and improve breathing
- Bronchodilators—to open airways
- IV fluids—to help blood pressure
Severe anaphylaxis may require:
To reduce the risk of anaphylaxis:
- Avoid contact with triggers.
- Ask the doctor about allergy shots.
- Carry an epinephrine injector at all times.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet at all times.
Anaphylaxis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/anaphylaxis. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Anaphylaxis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/immunology-allergic-disorders/allergic,-autoimmune,-and-other-hypersensitivity-disorders/anaphylaxis. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Kelly KJ, Sussman G. Latex allergy: where are we now and how did we get there? J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2017;5(5):1212-1216.
Last reviewed Janaury 2021 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Shawna Grubb, RN
Last Updated: 3/1/2021