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Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening, physiological reaction triggered by the onset of severe food allergy symptoms. Though an anaphylactic response to a food allergy is rare, individuals with a known, hypersensitive immuno-response to certain foods should be aware of the possibility of anaphylaxis and educate themselves about the symptoms and dangers associated with this potentially fatal allergic reaction. Considered a medical emergency, food allergy and anaphylaxis necessitate prompt, appropriate care to lessen the risk for complication, such as shock and premature death.
A food allergy is a fairly common condition for some individuals that occurs with the consumption of certain foods, such as nuts, dairy products, and shellfish. Under normal circumstances, the body's immune system serves to ward off or fight foreign substances, such as bacteria, by releasing antibodies and histamines. Allergies occur when the immune system is unable to tell the difference between harmless and harmful or known and foreign substances. In its effort to ward off harmful bacteria and allergens, the body produces protein antibodies, known as immunoglobulin E (IgE), to attack and eliminate the foreign presence. It is the release of histamine and IgE that is responsible for allergic reactions and an overproduction and dispersal of these substances that induces anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock.
Individuals with food allergies will generally demonstrate a range of symptoms that vary in degree. Mild symptoms include abdominal discomfort, nausea, and diarrhea. Certain individuals may also develop a rash, experience shortness of breath, and facial or widespread swelling. It is only in the presence of a severe food allergy that anaphylaxis may develop.
Food allergy and anaphylaxis most commonly present with airway constriction followed by the rapid onset of additional signs and symptoms. The individual may experience heart palpitations, difficulty speaking, and impaired cognition. Frequently, individuals experiencing a food allergy and anaphylaxis may wheeze and break out in hives. Airway constriction can rapidly progress and severely impair one’s ability to breathe properly, not only compromising respiration, but jeopardizing neurological and physiological function.
Anaphylaxis is a condition that is easily diagnosed due to its tell-tale signs and symptoms. A patient's prognosis is contingent upon prompt, appropriate treatment. It is essential that emergency services be notified the moment anaphylactic symptoms are noticed. In the absence of immediate medical assistance, symptomatic individuals are at risk for going into shock or cardiac arrest. Prolonged oxygen deprivation resulting from severe airway constriction can result in permanent neurological damage.
Epinephrine may be administered to help alleviate airway constriction and ease respiration. Depending on the severity of airway constriction, individuals in the midst of a food allergy and anaphylaxis reaction may be fitted with a breathing tube inserted through the mouth, nose or trachea. Additionally, intravenous fluids and antihistamine medications may be administered to further assist stabilizing the individual’s condition. To avoid the risk for food allergy and anaphylaxis, individuals with a known allergy are encouraged to avoid identified allergens and, if exposure occurs, that their condition be monitored closely.