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General Information

DEFINITION--A life-threatening allergic response to medications and many other allergy-causing substances. Reactions that occur quickly tend to be the most severe.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Blood vessels throughout the body; heart; lungs; skin.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes; all ages.


    Any of the following may occur within seconds or a few minutes after exposure to a substance to which you are very allergic:

  • Tingling or numbness around the mouth.
  • Sneezing, coughing or wheezing.
  • Swelling around face or hands.
  • Itching all over, often accompanied by hives.
  • Watery eyes.
  • Feeling of anxiety.
  • Tightness in the chest; difficulty breathing.
  • Swelling or itching in the mouth or throat.
  • Pounding heart, faintness, weak, rapid pulse.
  • Loss of consciousness. Not all symptoms occur. Seek immediate help for any.


    Eating or receiving injections of something to which you are sensitive. The allergic response to neutralize or get rid of the material results in a life-threatening overreaction. Things which cause reactions most often include:

  • Medication of all types, especially penicillins. Injections are riskier than oral drugs.
  • Stings or bites from insects, such as bees, biting ants and some spiders.
  • Injected chemicals used in some types of x-ray studies.
  • Foods, especially eggs, beans, seafood, fruit.
  • Vaccines; pollen.


  • A previous mild allergic response to things listed above.
  • History of eczema, hay fever or asthma.


    If you have an allergic history:

  • Tell your doctor before accepting any medication. Before you are given a shot, ask what it is.
  • Keep an anaphylaxis kit, such as Ana-Kit, with you at all times. Be sure your family knows how to use the kit if you have a reaction.
  • Always remain in your doctor's office 15 minutes after receiving any injection. Report any symptoms immediately.
  • Protect yourself from insect stings.
  • People with previous severe reaction to insect stings should consider immunization (allergy shots) as a preventive measure.

What To Expect

DIAGNOSTIC MEASURES---Laboratory skin tests to determine sensitivities.

APPROPRIATE HEALTH CARE--Doctor's treatment. Long-term treatment involves desensitization therapy.

POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONS--Without prompt treatment, anaphylaxis causes shock, cardiac arrest and death.

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Full recovery with prompt treatment.

How To Treat


  • If you observe signs of anaphylaxis in someone and he or she stops breathing: Call or have someone call 911 (emergency) or call 0 (operator) for an ambulance or medical help. (If the victim is a child, perform lifesaving measures for 1 minute before calling for emergency help.) Begin mouth-to-mouth breathing immediately. If there is no heartbeat, give external cardiac massage. Don't stop CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) until help arrives.
  • Be alert to the possibility of a reaction when taking any medicine and be prepared to respond quickly if symptoms occur. If you have had a previous severe allergic reaction, always carry your anaphylaxis kit.
  • Wear a Medic-Alert tag (See Glossary) that indicates your allergic condition.


  • Adrenalin by injection is the only effective immediate treatment.
  • Aminophylline, cortisone drugs or antihistamines, given after the adrenalin, help prevent the return of acute symptoms.

ACTIVITY--Resume your normal activities as soon as symptoms improve after an attack. Stay under someone's observation for 24 hours in case symptoms recur.

DIET--Avoid foods to which you are allergic.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You have symptoms of anaphylaxis. This is an emergency!
  • New, unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.
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