This week is Allergy Awareness Week, which aims to highlight the issues faced by those suffering with allergies. The focus this year is on anaphylaxis- which is at the severe end of the allergy spectrum. Although allergy affects a whopping 150 million people in Europe, it is surprising how little some people know about it. To mark Allergy Awareness Week, we have put together some key facts surrounding the symptoms, causes and management of severe allergies, so that you are all up to date with the information on this potentially life threatening condition.
What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock, is a severe reaction which develops rapidly in sufferers. It is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention. In most allergic reactions the chemicals which cause symptoms (e.g. histamines) are released into the tissue areas of the body thus causing symptoms in specifically located areas. In anaphylaxis, chemicals are released directly into the bloodstream causing a much more rapid reaction after exposure to the allergen.
What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?
The symptoms of anaphylaxis can vary. For some, symptoms often occur with those experienced in milder allergic reactions. However, mild symptoms such as an allergic rash may not always be present and the first symptoms seen are often severe. Signs of anaphylaxis include:
- Swelling in tongue and throat which can often lead to breathing and swallowing difficulties.
- Swelling of eyes, lips, hands and feet.
- Itchy skin or a raised red skin rash.
- Difficulty speaking.
- Wheeze or persistent cough or severe asthma.
- Abdominal pain and/or vomiting after an insect sting.
- Feeling light headed, collapsing and losing consciousness.
What causes anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis can occur when your body’s immune system overreacts to a harmless substance. The most common causes of anaphylaxis include:
- Insect stings such as those from wasps and bees.
- Medications such as antibiotics.
- Peanuts and tree nuts.
- Other foods such as milk and seafood.
Although the majority of allergic reactions are not anaphylactic, it is important that if anaphylaxis does occur it is treated as a medical emergency. The first line of treatment is the administration of an adrenaline injection. Often, people with a history of anaphylaxis will have an auto-injector of adrenaline. This is injected into their outer thigh muscle and held in place for 5-10 seconds. You should always call 999 for an ambulance regardless of whether an injection has been given or not.
For more information on what to do in an emergency concerning an allergic reaction visit the NHS website.
For further information on Allergy Awareness Week as well as different types of allergy visit the Allergy UK website.