Anaphylaxis causes 20-30 deaths per annum within the UK; however this figure is thought to be underestimated. Many deaths occur from life threatening reactions to different food groups and insect bites. In some cases but not always, these are preventable through prompt first aid treatment.
What is it?
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction causing the body to produce large quantities of a compound called histamine. These can be very useful for fighting off harmful parasites but also cause the body to overreact to harmless substances in the case of an allergy. This can cause rapid swelling of the airway and in the worst cases respiratory failure.
Anaphylaxis will always require a trigger to initiate the overactive response within the body. Typically an anaphylaxis patient will always avoid the trigger in order to live a normal and happy life. Below are the main, known causes of anaphylaxis:
Food groups eg dairy, fish & nuts
Medicines eg aspirin
Chemicals such as household cleaning products
Insect bites eg bees, wasps & hornets
Signs & Symptoms
The key to anaphylaxis treatment is spotting the signs & symptoms of the condition early. By doing so you will buy time for the casualty, which could ultimately save their life. Look out for the below signs and symptoms:
Anxiety / irritability
Swelling of the face and neck
Red blotchy skin
Itchiness / hives
Difficulty in breathing
Signs and symptoms of shock
Difficulty in breathing is what differentiates anaphylaxis to less serious allergic reactions. If the casualty is struggling to breathe normally then prompt first aid treatment will be required.
Remember anaphylaxis is a life threatening condition. When left untreated, the airway can effectively close shut, which will eventually lead to cardiac arrest and death. Follow the below five step treatment protocol when the condition is suspected / diagnosed:
Sit the casualty up if breathing is difficult
Dial 999 / 112 - State your location and be clear that the casualty has suspected anaphylaxis
If the casualty has an auto injector pen, ask them to administer
If they are unconscious or incapable then administer the pen for them
Monitor the casualty’s breathing and prepare for CPR
When the casualty does not have an auto injector pen the treatment protocol is to sit them up, dial 999 / 112 and prepare for CPR.
In summary anaphylaxis is a life threatening condition which will always need a trigger to cause an allergic response within the body. The condition is treatable through the administration of adrenaline. The casualty may carry an auto injector pen (containing adrenaline), which they or the first aider can administer. When there is no pen, or if it has failed, you should await the arrival of the emergency services, whilst monitoring the vital signs of the casualty.