What to do when anaphylaxis happens
Allergic reactions are not just confined to rashes, swelling, itchy eyes, runny nose and chest tightness.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur within seconds upon being exposed to the allergen. The body releases chemicals resulting in shock - blood pressure drops and the airway narrows.
Sufferers who have no prior knowledge of their allergies can get epinephrine - which helps raise blood pressure and open up the airway - in an emergency room, while those who do should have an EpiPen at all times.
Dr Gauresh Indulkar, senior resident physician at Gleneagles Hospital's accident and emergency department, sheds more light on anaphylaxis.
How do you know if you are experiencing anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis starts rapidly after exposure. It usually reaches maximal intensity within minutes. It can manifest as vocal hoarseness, a choking sensation, breathing difficulty, dizziness or fainting, palpitations, abdominal pain and vomiting or diarrhoea.
What are the different ways of treating it in the accident and emergency department?
A rapid initial assessment with measurement of vital signs will give a good gauge of the severity of the anaphylaxis.
Initial treatment involves the use of adrenaline injection, steroids and antihistamines.
Sometimes, if there is severe swelling of the voice box, we may have to put a tube through the mouth and into the throat to help the patient breathe, or even cut open the throat to put in this tube as a life-saving measure.
What can be done to prevent fatalities caused by allergies?
If anaphylaxis is suspected, one should call an ambulance to get treatment at the nearest emergency facility.
As an initial life-saving measure, those with previous severe allergy manifestations or previous anaphylaxis can keep an EpiPen with them.
Avoiding known allergens such as seafood and peanuts can also help prevent allergic reactions in general.
What kind of people are more prone to having or developing anaphylaxis?
People with known allergies and repeat exposure to the allergy-causing substance can experience anaphylaxis. Those with a history of asthma, eczema or allergic rhinitis are more prone to allergies in general.
Anaphylaxis can be more dangerous in the elderly and in people with chronic heart or lung disease, in terms of prolonged hospital stay and risk of death.
Seeking medical care and better control of chronic health issues can help to reduce the severity of anaphylaxis but may not prevent it from happening.