Anaphylaxis and Serious Allergies

Part 2 of a series on allergies focuses on life-threatening allergies. When should you worry about them and what should you do for them?

Rob Lamberts, MD
5-minute read
Episode #46

What Are the Symptoms of Anaphylaxis?

The first symptom of anaphylaxis is something doctors call urticaria. Urticaria are red itchy spots over the body, and are more commonly known as hives. Hives alone are not a sign of serious allergy; in fact they are a very common condition caused by allergies and even viruses. It is the presence of the other symptoms that not only define anaphylaxis, but make it deadly. These symptoms include:

  • Breathing difficulties, caused by the narrowing of the passages that bring air to the lungs. Shortness of breath and wheezing are the most common symptoms of anaphylaxis.

  • Digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

  • Shock, which is a sudden drop in blood pressure caused by the substances released by the white blood cells.

What Causes Anaphylaxis?

Unless they get immediate help, people having an anaphylactic reaction can die. The allergens that are most notorious for anaphylaxis include:

  • Insect stings - most commonly from insects related to bees

  • Certain foods - including peanuts, shellfish, and eggs

  • Medications - antibiotics are the main culprit, but many other medications can also cause anaphylaxis

  • Latex - which previously had widespread use in hospitals and doctors’ offices

Another Serious Type of Allergic Reaction: Delayed Hypersensitivity

People with delayed allergic reactions are not at increased risk of having anaphylaxis.

There is a second type of allergic reaction that can have serious consequences, known as delayed hypersensitivity. The delayed immune reaction shows up as a local reaction of redness and swelling. The reaction doesn’t happen for hours after initial exposure, peaking 48-72 hours afterwards. Poison ivy is an example of that kind of reaction.

This type of reaction is usually not serious, but it can cause problems if the exposure happens in the neck or other critical areas. 


Medical Disclaimer
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.