Understanding Anaphylaxis

If you have a serious allergy you can experience anaphylaxis. It is a frightening experience that can also be dangerous. Most people who have food intolerances never experience an anaphylaxis incident. However, some do so because in some people the level of intolerance they have grows as they age.

This can be because their immune system has been weakened by a medical event or may just be that the levels of the compounds they are allergic to have reached a tipping point. In other words there are high levels of the compound in their system meaning it only takes a relatively small amount to cause a drastic allergic reaction.

Fortunately, this rarely happens, but nonetheless, it is wise for people who suffer from food intolerances to understand anaphylaxis just in case. Here we explain what causes anaphylactic allergic reactions and the symptoms of anaphylaxis shock. Importantly, we also explain how to deal with an anaphylactic incident.

What Causes an Anaphylactic Reaction?


Anaphylaxis occurs when a person is subjected to a substance to which they are allergic. That substance can be a food, chemical or an insect bite to which the person is allergic.

The symptoms of anaphylaxis occur because the body is overreacting to a substance that it perceives as a danger. It is basically the body’s immune system going a bit crazy.

What are the symptoms of an anaphylactic allergic reaction?


When an anaphylactic incident starts and progresses the body manifests a range of symptoms. These include:

Hives or skin rashes

Tingling skin

Difficulty breathing

Tightness in the chest

Swelling of the tongue

Tingly lips followed by swelling

Feeling faint – usually due to dropping blood pressure

A slowing heart rate



Stomach pains


A blocked nose



Red and swollen eyes

Eye allergic reaction
CC BY-NC-ND by shawnzrossi

If you have an anaphylactic reaction to a product or food you may feel one, or  all of these symptoms. They can be very severe and get worse very quickly or start mild and build to dangerous levels.

The first signs of an allergic reaction to food


Normally, if you have a food intolerance and you eat foods to which you are sensitive you will first notice skin symptoms. Most people can feel a rash forming, so know that they are going to have an allergic reaction.

Naturally, with food allergies and intolerance another early sign of an allergic reaction is swelling of the tongue or lips. This is because these are the first parts of the body that come into contact with the allergen.

The importance of recognising the early signs

Recognising the early signs of an anaphylactic reaction is important. If you recognise the early signs you have to take the right action to stop the symptoms from getting worse. Remember that in extreme cases anaphylaxis can get so bad that you can stop breathing and die. In people who are hypersensitive to food or other substances recognising the early signs and taking the right action really is a matter of life and death.

Even of you only have a relatively mild allergic reaction you should still recognise the symptoms and treat them. Doing so, will reduce the impact the allergic episode has on you and stop your food intolerances from escalating.

Bear in mind every time your body experiences an allergic episode it is put under stress. Your autoimmune system goes into overdrive and works overtime to cope with the allergen. This is fine, but remember that while your body is doing that it is burning up an awful lot of resources. You need those resources to cope with everyday living. If you have burnt up your resources dealing with allergic episodes those resources are not there to keep things like colds and other infections at bay.

Dealing with An Anaphylactic Episode


If you suffer from severe sensitivity to foods or other substances you should take detailed advice from a medical professional. It really is a matter of life and death, so please take the time to seek good quality professional advice about dealing with an anaphylactic episode. If you are told to carry an Epi-Pen you need to do so and make sure you know how to use it. You should also make sure that your friends and family know how to use it too.

You need to call the emergency services the moment you feel the first symptoms. The Epi-Pen should work, but you may still need the help of medical professions and need that help quickly. It is, therefore, wise to always have your phone with you and make sure that it is fully charged.

Allergy alert bracelet
CC BY-SA by leunix

It also makes sense to wear an SOS bracelet or other medical advice jewellery to alert others to the fact you suffer from extreme allergies and are prone to anaphylaxis. You can buy pendants, bracelets, wristbands or even id tags for your running shoes.

Even if you use the Epi-Pen and stop the shock escalating you should still seek medical help. It is better to be safe than sorry and a severe allergic reaction can put a strain on your body so it is worth getting checked out.

If you have a milder reaction, which is the case for most who have food intolerances, you still need to understand how to deal with allergic reactions. Mild symptoms can be treated by taking an anti-histamine. Again, it is wise to have these prescribed by a doctor. Antihistamines, like all drugs, have side effects, so you need to know when and how to use them safely.