What is Anaphylactic Shock?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan
Allergens commonly responsible for anaphylaxis may include peanuts.
Allergens commonly responsible for anaphylaxis may include peanuts.

Anaphylactic shock is a particularly severe form of allergic reaction, which may be fatal if not rapidly and properly cared for. The allergens which may bring on this condition are varied, and in some cases even a trace amount is enough to trigger full anaphylaxis. Because of its extremely quick action, this reaction is responsible for many deaths in the United States and worldwide. It is estimated that more than 400 people die each year in the United States from anaphylactic shock brought on by insect stings, and more than 125 people die each year as a result of food allergies.

Bee stings may cause anaphylactic shock in some people.
Bee stings may cause anaphylactic shock in some people.

The symptoms of anaphylactic shock are varied, but often include a constriction of the airway, light-headedness and fainting, swelling of the neck and face, itching, and low blood pressure. A constricted airway, caused by a tightening of the bronchiole walls, is the most common cause of death in these cases. This will often occur within minutes of contact with the responsible allergen and, unless emergency assistance is on hand or very nearby, there is little one can do to restore air flow.

Ants may be responsible for causing anaphylactic shock in some people.
Ants may be responsible for causing anaphylactic shock in some people.

Those who have been diagnosed in the past with severe allergic reactions may carry on them some form of easily administrable epinephrine (adrenaline). The most common brand of autoinjectable epinephrine is EpiPen®, and it is designed to be self-administrable. It is highly recommended that anyone with severe allergies carry some form of epinephrine on their person at all times. In the United States, these devices require a prescription. While occasionally additional doses of epinephrine may be required to fully counter the affects of the allergen, care must be taken that the secondary dose is not injected too soon, as this can cause an increased heartbeat that may carry its own health risks.

Allergies to shellfish, like oysters, can cause a person to go into anaphylactic shock.
Allergies to shellfish, like oysters, can cause a person to go into anaphylactic shock.

Some of the most severe cases of anaphylactic shock come from allergens that are very common in the modern environment, such as peanuts and soybeans. Great care must be taken by those with high sensitivity to these allergens to avoid them. In an attempt to reduce the deaths caused by anaphylactic shock, the United States requires food companies to disclose whether their products are manufactured in a facility that also processes common allergens, as even trace levels may be enough to trigger a reaction. Other allergens commonly responsible for anaphylaxis include the stings of bees, wasps, and some ants; dairy; fish and shellfish; nuts; latex; and some drugs, such as penicillin.

Discussion Comments

anon1004770

In less than thirty days I have had a severe anaphylactic shock episode and ended up being intubated the first time because my epi pen had expired and my wife could not administer it to me. My tongue swelled up so big that it protruded 2 inches out of my mouth. My throat was swelling shut. My wife rushed me to the hospital immediately, my face was swelling as well. Three shots of epi in the ER did not do the trick. After they gave me Fetanyl I was out for the count. Three days later they woke me up to see if I could follow instructions. My wife said they were worried that I might have dain bramage.

They released me two days later and ER with what looked like burns on my face. My nose and face swelled up horribly and my tongue and throat began to swell again. Had not had the blessing of getting an EPI Pen before this happened. The ER personnel were able to stop its progress and I was able to return home a few hours later.

Three weeks later, and enough blood taken to bring Frankenstein to life, and no idea what is causing my anaphylaxis. and it happened again only this time was the worst episode yet.

From onset to when I collapsed on the floor was less than 10 minutes. My head was first affected as if it were on fire. Every nerve under the skin was firing and it felt as if my head was on fire and going to explode.

My face began to turn red, bright red, and moved down my neck, arms torso and legs. Then the hives and itching began. My wife saw me and jumped out of bed telling me to get dressed, she was taking me to the ER. I stood up, felt my legs go numb and without warning I collapsed on the floor. Milliseconds later I began having dry heaves, then diarrhea and finally convulsions that were uncontrollable. My body was shutting down completely, in less than 5 minutes.

Thank goodness my wife had an epi pen now and she shot me with it. This slowed the tongue and throat swelling enough the ambulance was able to make it and get me to the hospital for another visit to the ICU for three days. This was the worst episode to date.

This was my sixth episode over a period of 16 years and every time they got worse. More tests and still no clear understanding of the root cause. I had eaten nothing on any occasion but the first one years ago. No drinks, no exercise, nothing the same in each episode. All I can say is, if you suffer from Anaphylaxis, please keep at least two Epi Pens with you at all times, and if you have to use them get to the hospital immediately.

Make certain you know how to use it properly and have someone who can administer it to you know how to do it properly as well. --

Ronald G.

anon926034

My boyfriend went into anaphylactic shock once. He is allergic to peanuts and something that was supposedly "nut free" turned out not to be. His entire face and neck swelled up and he collapsed unconscious. His throat was swollen so her stopped breathing. I rang an ambulance and they told me to try and give him mouth-to-mouth and if his pulse stopped to do full CPR. Luckily he survived.

anon357327

I had anaphylactic shock from MSG consumption while exercising soon after eating ramen. I broke out in hives. My face swelled up and I fainted. I was incapicitated for nearly an hour. I am sure it was MSG because it has happened before, also after MSG consumption. Luckily, I survived without needing any medical attention.

anon334411

Anaphylactic shock happened to me without warning caused by an everyday pain reliever. Very scary. Like everything else, if it has never happened to you then you really can't relate to it 100 percent. I'll now carry an epi-pen on me for the rest of my life and hope I never have to use it.

I'm 54 and never had such a reaction. Becoming allergic to food, drugs, insect bites and stings can happen at any time in someone's life. Don't take symptoms lightly. Seek medical attention immediately.

anon296769

As an Army medic in the 70's, I gave a soldier the first of two injections of penicillin. I then proceeded to inject him with the second shot. Halfway through the second one, he collapsed. I checked his pulse and respiration but found none.

I then called the doctor who quickly gave him a shot of epinephrine in the heart. I hope he pulled through. I was never questioned over this incident. Needless to say, I couldn't eat or sleep for a few days. To this day, this bothers me.

anon291364

In September 2012, I suffered from anaphylactic shock. We were having our lunch I ate dried fish. I think the fish was not processed properly and that's why my body reacted to it. A few minutes after eating the dried fish, I started to feel dizzy, couldn't breathe normally, my heart was beating fast, and my face and half of my body started to turn red. After an hour, I took medicine and fluid. After a couple of hours I started vomiting and I pooped and then I feel better. I'm only 26 years old and this is my first encounter with allergies. How will I know what kind of food I should eat and not eat?

Azuza

I think it's a little bit ridiculous that you need a prescription to get an EpiPen. There are a lot of potential anaphylactic shock causes for allergy sufferers, so I think every first aid kit should have an EpiPen. As the article said, if you don't act quickly, the person can die.

Also, what is someone has a serious allergy and doesn't know about it? I know I've found out about most of my allergies by having reactions to things, although luckily I've never gone into anaphylactic shock. But for a person who does go into shock, having an EpiPen on hand just in case could mean the difference between the person living or dying!

ceilingcat

@JessicaLynn - I feel terrible for that kid! I know a few children with nut allergies, and it can be really difficult. My friend's daughter is so allergic her school had to ban anyone from bringing anything with peanuts in it into the building. Also, her school has an EpiPen on hand at all times in case she needs anaphylactic shock treatment.

As the article said, anaphylactic shock can kill a person fairly quickly, so it's important to act fast. I only hope if my friend's daughter ever needs treatment her teacher won't hesitate to administer the EpiPen!

JessicaLynn

Allergies can be extremely dangerous, yet some people still don't take them seriously. However, this can be really bad for the allergy sufferer!

One of my neighbors has a kid with a nut allergy. At first his reactions weren't very severe, so they kept giving him nuts. Eventually his reactions got worse and worse, to the point where he now has anaphylactic shock symptoms if he eats even a small amount of nuts.

Allergic reactions can get progressively worse, which is why you're not supposed to expose yourself to things you're allergic to!

anon44638

Is it possible to have an anaphylactic reaction to MSG?

anon13324

Is it possible to have an anaphylactic reaction to skin patch testing?

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    • Allergens commonly responsible for anaphylaxis may include peanuts.
      By: Jonny McCullagh
      Allergens commonly responsible for anaphylaxis may include peanuts.
    • Bee stings may cause anaphylactic shock in some people.
      By: The physicist
      Bee stings may cause anaphylactic shock in some people.
    • Ants may be responsible for causing anaphylactic shock in some people.
      By: Henrik Larsson
      Ants may be responsible for causing anaphylactic shock in some people.
    • Allergies to shellfish, like oysters, can cause a person to go into anaphylactic shock.
      By: M.studio
      Allergies to shellfish, like oysters, can cause a person to go into anaphylactic shock.
    • Swelling of the throat and airway from an allergic reaction could result in anaphylactic shock.
      By: Laurent Hamels
      Swelling of the throat and airway from an allergic reaction could result in anaphylactic shock.
    • EpiPens are used in the treatment of severe allergic reactions.
      By: Greg Friese
      EpiPens are used in the treatment of severe allergic reactions.
    • Anaphylactic shock may be fatal if not properly cared for.
      By: Tyler Olson
      Anaphylactic shock may be fatal if not properly cared for.
    • The first sign of anaphylaxis is often a swollen face, tongue or throat.
      By: jinga80
      The first sign of anaphylaxis is often a swollen face, tongue or throat.