Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and is potentially life threatening. It must be treated as a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment and urgent medical attention. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction, which often involves more than one body system. A severe allergic reaction usually occurs within 20 minutes of exposure to the trigger. Severe allergic reactions may occur without prior exposure to a trigger. It is characterised by rapidly developing airway and/or breathing and/or circulation problems usually associated with swelling, redness or itching of the skin, eyes, nose, throat, or mouth.
Many substances can cause anaphylaxis, but more common causes include:
Anaphylaxis encompasses a variety of signs and symptoms. Diagnosis is largely based on history and physical findings. Onset can range from minutes to hours after exposure to a substance.
Signs and symptoms are highly variable and may include one or more of the following:
Adrenaline (epinephrine) is the first line drug treatment for anaphylaxis.
The common form of this drug is the self-injecting EpiPen®. These contain single-use doses of adrenaline for the treatment of anaphylaxis.
There are two adrenaline doses available via the EpiPen®.
Adrenaline is rapidly absorbed when injected into the outer muscle of the mid-thigh and can be injected through thin clothing.
People with diagnosed allergies should avoid all trigger agents/confirmed allergens. People who have had a prior episode of anaphylaxis are prescribed adrenaline (epinephrine) in the form of an autoinjector. They should have a readily accessible ‘Anaphylaxis Action Plan’ and medical alert device. Whenever possible, this information should be sought and implemented, provided this does not delay emergency treatment.
The early administration of adrenaline (epinephrine) is the priority in the emergency treatment of anaphylaxis.
If the victim’s signs and symptoms suggest anaphylaxis the following steps should be followed.
If unsure whether it is anaphylaxis, give adrenaline. The risks of not giving adrenaline far outweigh any potential side effects, such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, shaking, nervousness or headache.
Regularly check the expiry date of autoinjectors. If the adrenaline is expired, replace immediately.
In an emergency, expired adrenaline may only be used if there is no other option available.