Everyone Should Know How to Spot the Stages of Anaphylaxis
Many people with allergies experience mild symptoms, like itchy eyes, that are annoying but generally harmless. But some allergic reactions called anaphylaxis can be so severe that they become life-threatening. Anyone with allergies can experience anaphylaxis. However, some people with other underlying medical conditions, such as allergic asthma, may be even more susceptible to having a severe reaction, meaning it’s especially important for them to have anaphylaxis on their radar.Normally, your immune system attacks potentially harmful substances like viruses and bacteria to keep you feeling healthy, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). In people with allergies, the immune system attacks a benign substance, like food or tree pollen. The same basic process happens during anaphylaxis, except the reaction and symptoms are more severe1 and affect the entire body rather than an isolated area, like the upper respiratory system.About 1 in 50 people in the U.S. have experienced anaphylaxis, but some experts believe the rate is even higher, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). You can’t predict when you or someone you love may have a really severe allergic reaction, but you can identify anaphylaxis and react quickly if you ever need to.Here’s what happens during anaphylaxis:First, you are exposed to an allergen.Allergens are essentially substances that trigger an allergic response in your body. They can be ingested, touched, injected, or inhaled, according to the AAFA. Allergens vary by person, but foods are one of the primary causes of anaphylaxis, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Common culprits include:EggsCow’s milkMany types of nuts, including peanuts, cashews, and walnutsShellfish such as shrimp, lobster, and clamsFishSoy, which is found in numerous foods like edamame, ice cream, and tempehWheat, a common ingredient in bread, cereals, and pastaMedicines (most often injectable medications), insect venom from bees and wasps, and latex can also trigger anaphylaxis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Very rarely, some people experience anaphylaxis during intense physical exercise, such as running, for unknown reasons, according to the Cleveland Clinic.Your body reacts, setting off a wave of symptoms.Once your immune system senses that you have been exposed to an allergen, it launches an attack, releasing inflammatory chemicals such as histamine to fight off the perceived invader.“Anaphylactic symptoms occur because your immune system is releasing several chemicals in large quantities after the allergen exposure,” Thanai Pongdee, MD, an immunologist from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., tells SELF.An anaphylactic reaction typically occurs within minutes or seconds of exposure to an allergen, according to the Mayo Clinic. But anaphylaxis can also be delayed for hours, which can make it a little more difficult to figure out the potential trigger.