Spring 2015 Health Link Online

HealthLink Online

Uniting Children, Parents, Caregivers, and Health Professionals

Anaphylaxis – What is it?

Anaphylaxis – What is it?

Anaphylaxis is a dangerous and sudden body reaction that involves two or more organ systems. An allergy to some substance causes the reaction. This may be something that has not caused any symptoms in the past. The reaction might involve skin and the linings of the mouth and throat. If so, you could see hives or flushing of the skin and swelling of the lips, tongue or the back of the throat. The respiratory system might be affected causing shortness of breath, wheezing, croupy sounds, and blue tint to the lips and skin. Other symptoms are cramps, abdominal pain or vomiting.

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening medical emergency. There may not be enough time to go to the emergency room or for emergency medical services to respond to a 911 call. The temporary life-saving medication that slows the anaphylactic reaction is an epinephrine injection. This medication is usually packaged in two auto-injectors. For maximum benefit, the first injection should be given in less than 4 minutes from the time the symptoms first appear. The auto- injector shoots the epinephrine dose through the skin when it is forcefully thrust against the thigh. Some auto-injectors must be held in place for 10 seconds for all the medicine to come through the needle.  Once injected, a dose of epinephrine lasts about 15-20 minutes.

Doctors will prescribe a two-dose set of auto- injectors to be kept on hand wherever there is someone who has had a serious allergic reaction in the past.  However, the first anaphylactic reaction may occur without warning anywhere, at any time.

In some states, legislators are enacting laws that enable school personnel to keep epinephrine auto-injectors on hand to use for first time anaphylactic reactions. These are in addition to the auto-injectors prescribed for specific children who have had significant allergic reactions in the past. Pennsylvania is one of those states. The Pennsylvania legislation is for schools and does not include child care facilities. However, the first aid responder in child care should be as prepared as possible. If anaphylaxis is suspected, and an epinephrine auto-injector is available, give the first dose to the person while someone else is calling 911. Medical professionals must come quickly to continue emergency measures.