Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that can be life-threatening or fatal. The reaction happens quickly and usually involves difficulty in breathing, feeling faint or lightheaded and can lead to a collapse. People might get skin wheals and/or angioedema before they start having difficulties in breathing.
Key triggers include food, drugs and stinging insects such as bees, wasps and hornets. Sometimes it is difficult or impossible to find a clear trigger; sometimes it is caused by a combination of occurrences. For example, people may only have anaphylaxis when exercising and sometimes a combination of exercise and certain foods or medications can cause the problem.
Anyone who has had an anaphylactic reaction should have specialist follow-up in order to identify and avoid the trigger(s). Sometimes their history and skin or blood tests can be enough to identify the trigger, but diagnosis may also involve careful challenge (provocation) testing in hospital, under medical supervision. Patients who have had an anaphylactic reaction should receive written information listing the triggers involved and giving a plan of how to manage any future episodes. Self-injected adrenaline is the best treatment to give immediately. Other drugs such as corticosteroids and antihistamines may be given in addition. In the case of anaphylactic reactions to insect stings, specific allergen immunotherapy (‘desensitisation’) may be necessary to protect against further allergic reactions.
The Anaphylaxis Campaign website offers further support for those living with anaphylaxis and their families.
Allergy team contact information
Fulham wing/South block, Fulham Road
Tel: 020 7351 8892
Fax: 020 73518949