As we head into the summer holidays, I wanted to write about an important lifesaving topic that any one of us could run into – how to recognise and respond to an anaphylaxis reaction. This could be something that affects you, your family or a person you pass in public. It can affect both children and adults and can occur anywhere.
What is Anaphylaxis?
It is a severe and often sudden allergic reaction, after exposure to something that you know you are allergic to (e.g. food/substance/ medication), but it can also be caused by an unknown allergen. The reaction can come on in a matter of minutes and progress rapidly, or it can occur as a delayed reaction a few hours later. It is potentially life-threatening and always needs emergency treatment.
Symptoms and signs
Airway: Persistent cough, hoarse voice, difficulty in swallowing, swollen tongue.
Breathing: Difficult or noisy breathing, wheeze.
Circulation: feeling lightheaded, clammy skin, confusion, unresponsive/unconscious.
In addition, there may also be flushing of the skin, swelling and itching/hives, abdominal pain and nausea.
How you can respond?
- Use autoinjector (adrenaline) if the person has one.
- Call 999 and state ‘anaphylaxis’, even if you think they might be getting better.
- Remove any triggers.
- Lie the person flat, unless they have breathing difficulties, are unconscious or pregnant.
- If symptoms do not improve after 5 to 15 mins, give second autoinjector if available.
How to give an autoinjector
These are medically prescribed and preloaded. Children will have varying doses according to weight/age. Below is an example for the EpiPen brand:
There are other brands such as Jext and Emerade. (These are different colours, and you may need to hold the pen for 10 seconds with these brands.) Please see links below for more information and videos about these specific brands.
Adrenaline acts quickly to open the airways, reduce swelling and raise blood pressure and is most effective when given as soon as anaphylaxis is recognised.
Dr. Yuheng Zhou
Teddington Resident & Paediatric Consultant