Anaphylaxis - Possible Causes

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What are common causes of anaphylaxis?

Although anaphylaxis can be due to different causes, there are four major subtypes of anaphylaxis (reactions to food, drugs, latex, and insect stings).

The causes of anaphylaxis are divided into two major groups:

  • IgE mediated: This form is the true anaphylaxis that requires an initial sensitizing exposure (for example, an exposure to the substance that will later trigger the anaphylaxis) and occurs on a subsequent exposure. It involves the coating of mast cells and basophils (cells in the blood and tissue that secrete the substances that cause allergic reactions, known as mediators) by IgE, and the explosive release of chemical mediators upon reexposure.
  • Non-IgE mediated: These reactions, the so called "anaphylactoid" reactions, are similar to those of true anaphylaxis but do not require an IgE immune reaction. They are usually caused by the direct stimulation of the mast cells and basophils. The same mediators as occur with true anaphylaxis are released and the same effects are produced. This reaction can happen, and often does, on initial as well as subsequent exposures, since no sensitization is required.

The terms anaphylaxis and anaphylactoid (meaning "like anaphylaxis") are both used to describe this severe allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis is used to describe reactions that are initiated by IgE and anaphylactoid is used in reference to reactions that are not caused by IgE. The effects of the reactions are the same, however, and are generally treated in the same manner. Often, they can not be distinguished initially.

Although it may appear that IgE mediated anaphylaxis occurs upon a first exposure to a food, drug, or insect sting, there must have been a prior, and probably unwitting, sensitization from a previous exposure. One may not remember an uneventful sting or be aware of "hidden" allergens in foods.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: July 30

i had a severe allergic reaction when i ingested 4- 500mg. capsules of amoxicillin,i needed to take prior to having my teeth cleaned. My appointment was for 1:30. I took the pills at 12:15 and by 12:45 it hit me. I broke out in a heavy sweat and felt like i was burning up. I had to pull my truck over for i was too sick to drive. I laid down on seat and started getting dry heaves, I eventually crawled out of truck and laid in the grass next to a sidewalk I didn't have my glasses on because i was too sick as I laid in the grass I was holding my cell phone and couldn't see good enough to call for help. Finally I got ahold of my dentists secretary and she called an ambulance for me. Ambulance arrived fairly soon and took me to the ER. They started emergency procedures on me. Also i defected in my pants, which was embarrassing as hell. Later about 5 hrs I started to feelbetter. I WAS Prescribed a round of prednezone and benadryal, funny thing is i had taken these pills before with no problems. I am taking coumadin for a mechanical heart valve i also take haldol and prozac for my depression. I never want to go through that again.After about 24 hrs I'm feeling much better but still weak.

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Comment from: Rabbit, (Patient) Published: September 26

I live on my own. I have had allergies all my life and asthma, but no food allergies until one night I was eating Brazil nuts (a favorite that I ate at Christmas throughout my childhood). I went to bed and my hands started burning and violently itching. I put them under the cold tap. I went back to bed, thinking I would call the doctor the following day. The next thing, my whole body, and especially my groin, were violently itching and burning. I got a hair brush to my body. Next thing, I feel my throat and tongue swelling and pressure increasing in my ears. At that point I called the ambulance and opened the front and porch doors to let them in. I was half conscious when they arrived, and they couldn't find me to start with. That was scary because they might go away again. They got me in the ambulance and treated me there and then with steroids, antihistamine, oxygen and I don't really know what else. My breathing was getting worse. I had a reaction to the steroids, and my groin went ballistic, all hot and stinging. They took me to the hospital and I was treated in crash, again with steroids, antihistamines and other drugs. I was kept in overnight. As a result of the attack, there are now broken veins all over my cheeks permanently. I have since had smaller reactions, to wheat in particular. It was very frightening, and only because I worked in a hospital for 20 years did I know it was anaphylaxis and call for the ambulance when I did. It made me realize just how much I want to live.

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