Anaphylactic Shock

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Anaphylactic shock is also known as “anaphylaxis”.  Anaphylactic shocks are very rare and can be extremely severe.  They start as a sudden allergic reaction that involves the entire body. The allergic reaction occurs because the body’s immune system reacts inappropriately in response to the presence of a substance that is wrongly perceived as “harmful” or “threatening”.

An anaphylactic reaction is caused mainly by the sudden release of chemical substances (including histamine) from cells in the blood and tissues where they are stored.

This is triggered by the reaction that takes place between the antibody (Immunoglobulin E - IgE) and the allergen.

The released chemicals act on the blood vessels to cause swelling in the mouth or anywhere on the skin.

There will normally be a fall in blood pressure and sometimes the lungs (this normally occurs mainly on asthma sufferers).

The most common reasons to why an anaphylactic shock happens are due to:

- Food allergies, particularly allergies to peanuts and tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, brazils).

Peanuts can turn up under several different names, such as: groundnuts, earth nuts and monkey nuts.
Make sure to read food labels thoroughly when buying food products.

Peanuts (arachis hypogaea) are actually legumes. Some people with allergies to peanuts can also react to other types of legumes (e.g. peas, beans and lentils)

- Also foods including sesame, fish, shellfish, dairy products and eggs.

- Allergies to venom from bee or wasp stings

- Allergies to some man-made materials (natural latex) or drugs (penicillin or any other drug or injection)

Warning: Glucosamine is often used for treating arthritis.
This ingredient is derived from the skeletons of shellfish and is unsuitable for people with shellfish allergy (Chondroitin is a shellfish-free alternative).

Chitin is derived from shellfish shells and should be avoided by people who are allergic to shellfish.
Some calcium supplements may also contain ground oyster shell so care must be taken when using food supplements.

The symptoms of an anaphylactic shock can vary and usually they develop within minutes of contact with the allergen but sometimes it can develop after several hours.
In cases of food allergies, the symptoms of an anaphylactic shock include:

- Severe swelling of the lips, tongue, mouth and throat (These can lead to breathing difficulties and are life threatening)

Symptoms for insect bites and stings or by injected drugs are more likely to cause heart or circulation problems, such as:

- Low blood pressure (sudden feeling of weakness)
- Weak pulse
- Dizziness or faintness
- Sense of impending doom

Other symptoms include:

- Generalised flushing of the skin
- Nettle rash (hives) anywhere on the body
- Difficulty in swallowing or peaking
- Alterations in heart rate
- Severe asthma
- Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting
- Collapse and unconsciousness

All these symptoms will not necessarily occur at the same time.

Unfortunately the only way to avoid an anaphylactic shock is by completely avoiding the allergen that causes it.

Make sure you know exactly what it is that you are allergic to so that you can avoid it.
When it comes to food allergies, DO NOT TAKE ANY RISKS.
Check what you are eating for any “hidden ingredients” containing the allergen in question.

Talk to your doctor about having an Pre-loaded Adrenaline injection supply (this is the only treatment available to counteract anaphylactic shock and you must keep this with you at all times if you believe to be at risk).

Adrenaline (also know as epinephrine) acts quickly to constrict blood vessels, relax smooth muscles in the lungs to improve breathing, stimulate the heartbeat and help to stop swelling around the face and lips.

Make all family members, friends and colleagues aware of your condition.

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