COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Information
Your health and safety are our top priorities. Learn more about our COVID-19 evaluation and testing and our commitment to providing great care while maintaining the safest environment possible.
Anaphylactic reaction; Anaphylactic shock; Shock - anaphylactic; Allergic reaction - anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening type of allergic reaction.
Anaphylaxis is a severe, whole-body allergic reaction to a chemical that has become an allergen. An allergen is a substance that can cause an allergic reaction.
After being exposed to a substance such as bee sting venom, the person's immune system becomes sensitized to it. When the person is exposed to that allergen again, an allergic reaction may occur. Anaphylaxis happens quickly after the exposure. The condition is severe and involves the whole body.
Tissues in different parts of the body release histamine and other substances. This causes the airways to tighten and leads to other symptoms.
Some drugs (morphine, x-ray dye, aspirin, and others) may cause an anaphylactic-like reaction (anaphylactoid reaction) when people are first exposed to them. These reactions are not the same as the immune system response that occurs with true anaphylaxis. But, the symptoms, risk of complications, and treatment are the same for both types of reactions.
Anaphylaxis can occur in response to any allergen. Common causes include:
Pollen and other inhaled allergens rarely cause anaphylaxis. Some people have an anaphylactic reaction with no known cause.
Anaphylaxis is life threatening and can occur at any time. Risks include a history of any type of allergic reaction.
Symptoms develop quickly, often within seconds or minutes. They may include any of the following:
The health care provider will examine the person and ask about what might have caused the condition.
Tests for the allergen that caused anaphylaxis (if the cause is not obvious) may be done after treatment.
Anaphylaxis is an emergency condition that needs medical attention right away. Call 911 or the local emergency number immediately.
Check the person's airway, breathing, and circulation, which are known as the ABC's of Basic Life Support. A warning sign of dangerous throat swelling is a very hoarse or whispered voice, or coarse sounds when the person is breathing in air. If necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR.
The person may receive medicines to further reduce symptoms.
Anaphylaxis can be life threatening without prompt treatment. Symptoms usually do get better with the right therapy, so it is important to act right away.
Without prompt treatment, anaphylaxis may result in:
Call 911 or the local emergency number if you or someone you know develops severe symptoms of anaphylaxis. Or, go to the nearest emergency room.
To prevent allergic reactions and anaphylaxis:
Barksdale AN, Muelleman RL. Allergy, hypersensitivity, and anaphylaxis. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 109.
Dreskin SC, Stitt JM. Anaphylaxis. In: Burks AW, Holgate ST, O'Hehir RE, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 75.
Shaker MS, Wallace DV, Golden DBK, et al. Anaphylaxis-a 2020 practice parameter update, systematic review, and Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) analysis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2020;145(4):1082-1123. PMID: 32001253 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32001253/.
Schwartz LB. Systemic anaphylaxis, food allergy, and insect sting allergy. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 238.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 2/2/2020
Reviewed By: Stuart I. Henochowicz, MD, FACP, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology, Georgetown University Medical School, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2021 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.