Anaphylactic shock is a serious and life-threatening health condition that is caused by an allergic reaction. Most people use the term anaphylaxis and anaphylactic shock to mean the same thing, however, anaphylactic shock is a severe complication of anaphylaxis that develops when the blood pressure drops significantly low, and the blood flow is disturbed.
Allergies usually develop when a person’s immune system reacts excessively to a component called an allergen. This reaction makes the system release chemicals that can result in irritation and other symptoms. In most cases, allergic reactions are mild, causing symptoms like a rash or a runny nose.
Generally, people develop symptoms of anaphylaxis within a few minutes of having food or being exposed to an allergen. In very rare situations, symptoms develop several hours later and common symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction include:
- Rashes – nose, mouth, skin
- Breathing problems/ wheezing
- Low blood pressure – results in dizziness or fainting
- Swelling of the mouth or tongue
- Swollen lips
- Trouble swallowing
Also Read: Food Allergies in Kids: 5 Foods That Can Trigger Reaction And Here’s What You Should Do
In a few individuals anaphylactic shock, as well as anaphylaxis, develops. Low blood pressure and improper oxygen flow to the vital organs are the main symptoms of anaphylactic shock. Further, some patients may lose consciousness, have poor bowel or bladder function, or may exhibit chest pain.
Generally, anaphylactic shock reactions are quite alike to other forms of medical shock. Also, in a person having a serious allergic reaction, a life-threatening condition, it may be hard to rightly differentiate anaphylactic shock from other causes of shock.
The early signs of anaphylactic shock may vary from person to person and seem mild which include hives, itching, or a sense of anxiety. And those with a previous history of a serious allergic reaction often show a similar pattern of symptoms every time they react. Early warning signs that indicate a person may go into anaphylactic shock include:
- Skin colour changing to blue or white
- Swelling of the facial region
- Harsh cough
- Breathing difficulties
- Hives are observed in different body areas
Most people experience anaphylactic reactions because of allergies, where the body makes proteins, which can attack harmful invaders like viruses and bacteria. A person with allergies produces immunoglobulin E(IgE) proteins in reaction to harmless components. These components stimulate white blood cells called mast cells to release special chemicals called histamines that lead to an allergic reaction. Some allergens are more likely than others to cause allergic reactions, these include:
- Insect stings
- Food sources like peanuts, walnuts, shellfish, and eggs
- Certain medications
The healthcare provider will usually give an epinephrine injection as the main treatment option for those suffering from anaphylaxis. It is a single dose of the hormone epinephrine, that works to reverse the action of the components produced during the allergic reaction and also avert the system from going into shock or reverse the process of shock if it has ongoing. It is only available with a valid prescription from a doctor. It is unsafe to treat anaphylaxis at home and if treatment is delayed it can be life-threatening.
Also Read: Immunoglobulins Blood Test: Purpose, Function, And Results
In cases of more serious anaphylactic shock, the patient may need further medical treatment and therapies which include:
- Oxygen support
- Intubation with a tube attached to a machine to aid with breathing
- Injection to decrease the swelling in the respiratory tract
- Antihistamines to lessen the severity of allergic reactions
- Medications to improve blood pressure
People with any previous history of anaphylactic reactions should be aware of substances or allergens that trigger symptoms. Your doctor may usually suggest allergy testing to identify allergens and avoiding these can be lifesaving for the person.
Immunotherapy or allergy shots may also be prescribed to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.
Anaphylaxis and anaphylactic shock both can result in serious respiratory complications. If left untreated, a person may not be able to breathe. A person may experience brain damage if they are unable to breathe for a long period of time. In very rare cases, a few people with anaphylaxis may have a second allergic condition called a biphasic reaction. This secondary reaction may develop after 12-72 hours after the first attack. Those people who experienced a biphasic reaction need to be under observation. Though it is less severe than the first reaction, it can be at times fatal.