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Anaphylaxis is a sudden 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 likely the reaction is to be severe. Many people who are susceptible to anaphylaxis carry emergency medicine with them. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and the incidence is increasing, particularly during the first 2 decades of life.
Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
Anaphylaxis occurs when your immune system overreacts to an allergen. Your body releases substances to protect you from the allergen. Instead those same substances 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:
Who's Most At Risk?
Anaphylaxis is rare. The following factors may increase your risk for anaphylaxis:
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
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. Your doctor may recommend oral desensitization to foods or medications 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.
Surgical and Other Procedures
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.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
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. However, 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.
Nutrition and 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. Never use herbs to treat it. Do not take herbs if you are pregnant or nursing, unless you are under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. Tell all of your health care providers 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 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) helped 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.
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Review Date: 12/8/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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