What Is Anaphylaxis, And Is Your Child At Risk?

“My face feels funny when I eat peanuts.”
“My face turns red when I eat lobster.”
“My tongue swells up when I eat strawberries.”

You may have seen a commercial recently with cute kids talking about how certain foods affect them. While these aren't exact quotes, the message being delivered is that allergic reactions can cause a fatal condition called anaphylaxis. But what is it? How does it happen, and what can you do if it does?

Anaphylaxis is a rare but serious allergic reaction to certain substances. Unlike other reactions that occur in one specific place, anaphylaxis affects the entire body. While immediate reactions vary, it can progress very suddenly and be fatal if not treated right away. These reactions include:
  • Swelling or tingling of the tongue and/or lips
  • Redness or hives
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • A feeling of 'certain doom'
  • Mental confusion
  • Wheezing
  • A literal 'lump in your throat'
  • An extreme drop in blood pressure and/or pulse
  • Heart palpitations
  • Swelling of the face or eyes
While sometimes the reason for anaphylaxis is not known, some of the most common causes are:
  • Foods such as nuts, egg whites, fish or shellfish
  • Latex
  • Medications, particularly aspirin or penicillin
  • Bites or stings from insects such as ants, wasps, bees or hornets
In very rare cases, exercise or the contrast used in x-rays can cause these reactions.
The best (and really, only) emergency treatment for anaphylaxis is an injection of epinephrine. Have you ever seen a person carry something called an 'Epi-Pen'? That's what they are for. If you are around someone when they have a reaction like this, call 911 immediately. In roughly 20% of cases, the symptoms can recur after a few hours of treatment. For this reason, a visit to the emergency room is necessary even if symptoms have improved.

If you or child has ever had an allergic reaction in the past, see your doctor. He can run allergy tests to see exactly what it is that causes these reactions and give you the tools to deal with them. Hopefully this will never happen to you, but being prepared is always a good thing. 

For a helpful website, visit http://myallergysurvey.com/.

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