Anaphylaxis - Symptoms and Signs

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What are the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis?

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 to 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.

About 25% 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: gotta do it, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: October 28

Mine are caused by an unknown food allergy, bread products are the cause about 95% of the time (only well flavored or multi-grain). I get a 5 to 10 minute warning: wheezing and abdominal cramping. If I take an anti-histamine right away, it significantly reduces the symptoms that follow the "warning" symptoms. The longer I question (during the first 5-10 minutes) the worse the reaction. I do not get hives, but my entire face and neck get red, sometimes a bit freakishly red. Ears, back of throat and ears itch. Nose plugs after suddenly running like a faucet. I develop short gasping breaths and wheezing. It usually takes two to three trips to the restroom to finally get to the near "water" bowel movement, but it is during this time period that the reaction goes from 5 mph to 100 mph. This is when the "how many minutes has it been since I took anti-histamine" plays a big role. Less than 5 means plan on suffering pretty good (the bad ones involve my voice changing and not getting it back to normal for 1 to 5 hours) 10 minutes means wheezing and semi-shallow breathing will be over in 5 to 10 minutes.

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Comment from: Myleftfoot48, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: February 20

On 05/09/2013, I experienced a high heart rate, clammy skin, severe itching and swelling of my hands, eyes, neck, lips and tongue and unconsciousness at home. I soiled my pants, went into respiratory failure and coded while en route to hospital (epinephrine 1000mg, famotidine 20mg, albuterol 2.5mg). This was a first time event. I was admitted and stayed for 3 days. Many tests were done (CBC, EKG, Chest X-ray, blood gases, CT head and C-spine, swallow test), I was also given breathing treatments and oxygen. I had very low blood pressure (63/32), bed was lowered and IV given. I was discharged after 3 days. I had follow up with primary care giver, prescription for EpiPens and tested by allergist/immunologist a month later. Diagnosis was idiopathic anaphylaxis, same as 05/12/2013 diagnosis. I"m fearful that it"ll happen again and I don"t know the trigger.

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