Delivering a Healthy WA

Understanding anaphylaxis

About allergy

Allergy occurs when a person's immune system reacts to substances (allergens) in the environment that are harmless for most people.  Allergic reactions range from being mild to severe.

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and is potentially life threatening .

What are the main causes anaphylaxis?

The most common food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts (e.g. hazelnuts, cashews and almonds), egg, cow's milk, wheat, soybean, fish, shellfish and sesame. Other triggers of anaphylaxis include medications, anaesthesia, latex and, insect bites and stings, particularly bee stings.

How can anaphylactic reactions be prevented?

Avoidance of known allergens is essential. Therefore it is important to know who is at risk, what they are allergic to, and minimising the risk by implementing strategies to avoid exposure. Risk minimisation strategies include raising the awareness of anaphylaxis with carers, peers and the community.

  • Having unstable asthma increases the risk of anaphylaxis being life threatening.
  • For young people with anaphylaxis it is important they are diligent in taking on the responsibility of ensuring for their own safety, as unfortunately, too often reactions in this age group are found to be preventable and have resulted from lapses in being cautious.

Recognising anaphylaxis signs and symptoms (Refer to ASCIA Action Plan for Anaphylaxis (external site))

ASCIA Action Plan for Anaphylaxis (general) for EpiPen®

Mild to moderate allergic reaction - may or may not precede anaphylaxis

  • Swelling of the lips, face, eyes
  • Hives or welts
  • Tingling mouth
  • Abdominal pain or vomiting (indicates a severe allergic reaction to insects)

Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction), watch for any one of the following :

  • Difficult/noisy breathing
  • Swelling of tongue
  • Swelling/tightness in throat
  • Difficulty talking and/or hoarse voice
  • Wheeze or persistent cough
  • Persistent dizziness or collapse.
  • Pale and young children may become floppy.

How should anaphylaxis be treated ? (Refer to ASCIA Action Plan for Anaphylaxis (external site))

Administering an Adrenaline autoinjector

Anaphylaxis should be treated as a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment.

If in doubt, give adrenaline autoinjector.

  • Phone ambulance 000 (mobile 000 or 112).
  • If no response after 5 minutes and additional adrenaline is available, a further dose may be given.
  • After giving adrenaline, if there are no signs of life, commence CPR.
  • If unsure whether it is asthma or anaphylaxis, give adrenaline, then give asthma medication.
  • Medical observation in hospital for at least 4 hours after the last dose of adrenaline is recommended after anaphylaxis.