Anaphylaxis - Symptoms and Signs

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What are anaphylaxis symptoms and signs?

Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction that affects multiple areas of the body.

  • The severity of the reaction varies from person to person.
  • Subsequent reactions to the same trigger are typically similar in nature.
  • The more rapid the onset of symptoms, the more severe the reaction is likely to be.
  • A history of allergic disease (rhinitis, eczema, asthma) does not increase the risk of developing IgE mediated anaphylaxis, but it does incline the person to a non-IgE-mediated reaction.
  • Underlying asthma may result in a more severe reaction and can be more difficult to treat.

The symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction may occur within seconds of exposure or be delayed 15-30 minutes, or even an hour or more after exposure (typical of reactions to aspirin and similar drugs). Early symptoms are often related to the skin and include

  • flushing (warmth and redness of the skin),
  • itching (often in the groin or armpits),
  • hives.

These symptoms are often accompanied by

  • a feeling of "impending doom,"
  • anxiety,
  • sometimes a rapid, irregular pulse.

Frequently following the above symptoms, throat and tongue swelling results in hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and difficulty breathing.

Symptoms of rhinitis (hay fever) or asthma may occur, causing

  • a runny nose;
  • sneezing, and wheezing, which may worsen the breathing difficulty;
  • vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps may develop.

Some of the time, the mediators flooding the bloodstream cause a generalized opening of capillaries (tiny blood vessels) which results in

  • a drop in blood pressure,
  • lightheadedness,
  • even loss of consciousness.

These are the typical features of anaphylactic shock.

Return to Anaphylaxis

See what others are saying

Comment from: Nurse Ana, 35-44 Female (Caregiver) Published: September 12

My nurse friend said she hung clothes on the line the weekend prior to her anaphylactic reaction. She said the morning she had noticed a little dishwashing residue in her coffee mug but poured coffee in it anyway. When she picked a piece of paper off the hospital floor, her hands began to burn and her face to swell. She was admitted overnight for observation but has no idea what triggered the anaphylaxis.

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Comment from: nuni71, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: October 13

I have had 3 anaphylactic reactions that required medical intervention but 3 in-between that were dealt with differently. My first reaction was after eating fish tacos (I had eaten fish my whole life). It started with flushing across my whole body, feet itching, then itching in mouth, ears and throat. I drove myself to the closest emergency room (ER) and passed out when I walked in. I had severe diarrhea, blood pressure was low, but pulse rate high. I was give IV epinephrine, steroid and prednisone. Then I had a couple episodes that started with just the flushing, diarrhea, and slight itching but did not feel like throat was closing. Once was after eating fries, once after ribs and third time with skin testing in allergist's office. They think there could have been cross contact with first two, but allergist thought it was a vasovagal response, and then sent me to cardiologist for every possible test. Heart is fine. Next I drank tea, (it had tuna oil added in it that I was unaware of) then started again; diarrhea, flushing, throat itching and was taken to the ER and given epinephrine, etc. Four days later while driving, it started again. I had not eaten anything. I was taken by ambulance to ER and they think possible rebound reaction to the one 4 days prior. All RAST (radioallergosorbenttest) and skin tests came back negative, even though I had symptoms during the skin tests (just no raised bumps). I am terrified to eat, and feel like no doctor so far has been helpful in determining what this is.

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