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Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction affecting multiple organ systems and can be fatal if not treated immediately. Exposure to allergens causes a drop in blood pressure and the airways to constrict. Once there are visible symptoms, the condition can worsen quickly, and death may occur in minutes. People who are prone to allergic reactions from food, insect venom, medication and latex should always be prepared for anaphylaxis as symptoms can worsen and change without warning. Someone that experiences mild swelling from a bee sting can subsequently experience potentially fatal symptoms. People with a history of anaphylaxis, a family history of such reactions, or who suffer severe allergies or asthma should all be aware of what to do in an emergency.

Symptoms can include swelling and hives at the site or in the mouth, lips and tongue. Vomiting, shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing, dizziness, weak pulse, fainting, watery eyes, stuffy nose, sweating, confusion and losing consciousness can also occur. If someone goes into anaphylactic shock, time is of the essence. Epinephrine should be given immediately. Waiting to see if symptoms worsen can be fatal. Emergency treatment should always be sought; even if symptoms improve, the patient needs observation as it is common for a second reaction to occur even hours later.

Epinephrine increases heart rate and blood pressure, relaxes muscles in the airways, helps swelling, and suppresses the patient’s immune response, effectively stopping the reaction. There is no substitute for epinephrine injection; antihistamines only work on mild reactions such as swelling, so do not delay treatment.

Two epinephrine auto-injectors should always be available, as well as an emergency plan with details about symptoms and how to use the device prescribed, especially in the case of at-risk children to have at school or when not with their parents. Epinephrine devices should always be stored at room temperature, never in direct sunlight, and always checked for oxidation and expiration. If the medication has particles or isn’t clear, replace it immediately.