Anaphylaxis is a sudden, serious allergic reaction that can be life threatening. Symptoms may be mild to start, but they become severe in minutes, or even seconds. Occasionally, the symptoms develop gradually over 24 hours. The more quickly the symptoms begin, the more severe they generally are. Many people who are susceptible to anaphylaxis carry emergency medicine with them. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency, causing about 500 deaths each year. The incidence of anaphylaxis is increasing, particularly during the first 2 decades of life.
Anaphylaxis occurs when your immune system overreacts to an allergen. Your body releases substances to protect you from the allergen, but instead cause your blood pressure to drop suddenly and your airways to constrict so that you have trouble breathing.
Many substances can cause anaphylaxis; sometimes the cause isn't known. Common triggers include:
Anaphylaxis is rare. The following factors may increase your risk for anaphylaxis:
Your health care provider will perform an exam, ask about any contact you may have had with possible allergens (such as food, drugs, and insect stings), and may conduct blood or urine tests, allergy tests, or other tests.
Get emergency medical care immediately to maintain breathing, blood pressure, and heart function, and to reverse the reaction. Oral desensitization to foods and/or medications may be recommended to prevent future episodes.
You should receive epinephrine right away. Once at the hospital, your health care provider may give you additional drugs, including antihistamines and corticosteroids, to control symptoms and prevent delayed relapse.
For breathing trouble, health care providers may need to open the airway with an endotracheal tube and possibly connect a ventilator. Other procedures may be needed to stabilize blood pressure.
Anaphylaxis always requires conventional emergency medical care and should not be treated with CAM therapies. However, some CAM therapies may help prevent allergic responses, including anaphylaxis, or lessen the severity of an allergic reaction. Keep in mind, though, that some herbs and supplements -- just like prescription drugs -- can cause allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. If you have allergies, talk to your health care provider before taking any herbs or supplements.
The following nutrients may help support your immune system and reduce or prevent allergic reactions, though there is no scientific evidence that they will help prevent anaphylaxis:
Some herbs may help support your immune system and reduce the frequency or severity of allergic reactions, although there is no evidence they can prevent anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and should never be treated with herbs. Do not take herbs if you are pregnant or nursing, unless you are under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. You should let all of your health care providers know about any herbal medicines you are planning to use.
Several studies suggest that medicinal plants traditionally used in Asia to prevent or treat allergic reactions may help prevent anaphylaxis. These herbal remedies include:
Researchers have tested combinations of specific herbs in animals, which show some signs of preventing anaphylaxis. You should consult a licensed, qualified herbalist for more information about these combinations.
Herbs to avoid
Although anyone can be allergic to any herbs, the following is a list of herbs that are more apt to cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals:
Anaphylaxis requires immediate emergency medical attention. While the following homeopathic remedies have been used for allergic reactions, including symptoms of anaphylaxis, they should be given only under the guidance of a certified, trained homeopath in the appropriate circumstances. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for each individual.
Acupuncture has been used to support the immune system and to relieve symptoms of seasonal allergies, as well as to lessen chronic allergies and sensitivities. One animal study found that electroacupuncture (applying an electrical charge to acupuncture needles) seemed to help animals survive allergic shock, compared to no treatment at all. While you should never delay conventional treatment of anaphylaxis, this study suggests acupuncture may be a useful supportive therapy. More research is needed.
Without proper treatment, anaphylaxis can be deadly. However, most people who receive proper treatment do well. Once you have anaphylaxis, you may not have it again, even with exposure to the same allergen. But the risk is high, so try to avoid substances that caused the reaction. Drugs classified as beta-blockers, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, ACE inhibitors, and ARBs may make anaphylaxis worse or interfere with treatment. If you have a history of anaphylaxis, check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out if you take one of these medications.
You may need to stay in the hospital for 24 hours to make sure no new symptoms occur. For a severe reaction, your doctor may monitor heart function or admit you to the intensive care unit.
Allergic reaction - anaphylaxis
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