Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe reaction to an allergen that can be life-threatening. About one in 20 women, men, and children in the United States have experienced at least one episode of anaphylaxis. Half of adults with food allergies have had an anaphylactic reaction.
If you have allergies, you’re at risk for anaphylaxis, even if you’ve never had an episode before. The most common triggers for anaphylaxis include:
- Tree nuts
- Cow’s milk
- Insect stings
More than half of people who experience anaphylaxis develop swelling in the mucous membranes of their throat, lips, and tongue. This can shut down your airway and make it impossible to breathe.
Anaphylaxis can also stress your heart, causing it to beat to quickly or stop altogether. Each year, about 220 people in the US die from uncontrolled anaphylaxis.
Our expert allergist, Catherine Fuller, MD, encourages you to stay alert to anaphylaxis symptoms. Watch for hives, swelling of the mouth or tongue, throat tightening, a change in the voice, difficulty speaking, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, vomiting, feeling lightheaded or dizzy. At our office in West Los Angeles, California, she provides allergy tests and treatments and prescribes epinephrine pens to control an anaphylactic attack.
If you’re at risk for anaphylaxis, the best strategy is to try to prevent attacks. Follow these tips to keep your allergies from spiraling into a life-threatening episode.
Identify and avoid your triggers
If you have allergies, you’re probably already actively avoiding whatever triggers you can.
With food allergies, simply stop eating or drinking the substances that trigger your attacks. Read labels when you’re in the grocery store, and focus on selecting whole foods with single ingredients. When you’re not in control of your food — such as at parties and restaurants — inquire about ingredients and avoid those that may cause a reaction.
When your allergy is to insect bites or stings, you can protect yourself by wearing long-sleeved and long-legged clothing when outdoors. You may also use insect repellent. Also avoid:
- Drinking sweet beverages outdoors
- Wearing perfume outdoors
- Walking barefoot on grass
- Wearing bright colors
Never swat at insects, as that may provoke them. When you see a bee, wasp, fire ant, or other stinging insect, move away slowly.
You must be especially careful if you’re prone to exercise-induced asthma. In rare cases, exercise could prompt an anaphylactic attack.
Get tested for allergens
Most people with allergies have multiple allergies. The more aware you are of your triggers, the better you become at avoiding them. We conduct tests for environmental and food allergies at our office, and we can explain anaphylaxis and your risk.
Practice with and carry an epinephrine auto-injector
An epinephrine injector can save your life if you experience an anaphylactic reaction. Carry at least 1 devices with you at all times, and be sure to refill the prescription before it expires. We will train you in its use. Be sure not to allow the epinephrine pen to overheat, so don’t store it in the glove compartment. Take it with you. It won’t do you any good if it is in your refrigerator!
If you feel the symptoms of anaphylaxis coming on, even if they’re mild, use your epinephrine. Do not rely on an antihistamine like Benadry. This takes 34 minutes to achieve peak serum concentration. Shoot first and ask questions later!
Don’t wait until an emergency situation to learn how to use the auto-injector. Order a trainer injector and practice on an orange until you feel comfortable quickly accessing and injecting epinephrine.
Educate those around you
Any medical provider you work with should be aware of your allergies. So should your friends and family. It’s wise to wear a medical bracelet or necklace, too, in case you lose consciousness. Emergency workers and others should know your allergy status to avoid instigating an attack.
You can also train your closest friends and family in how to inject you in cases of emergency. Have them practice with the trainer injector so they’re ready and able if you have an attack in their presence and can’t inject yourself.
Bee, Wasp, or Hornet Sting Allergy
If you have allergies to these insects, immunotherapy is 97% protective. If you have a history of anaphylaxis to these insect sting, reduce your risk for anaphylaxis with allergy testing, immunotherapy, and epinephrine prescriptions.
Call our friendly staff at 310-828-7978 or use our online appointment request tool to get personalized care from Dr. Fuller.