Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition caused by an allergic reaction. While it's rare, it's also serious. When your body comes in contact with an allergen, it mistakenly thinks the substance is harmful. Your immune system then releases an antibody called immunoglobulin E, which then triggers the release of an army of chemicals to fight off the invading allergen. Some of the most common allergens that result in anaphylactic reactions are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, eggs, penicillin and insect stings.
To identify anaphylaxis, look for certain symptoms. When you try to breathe, you might find yourself wheezing, coughing and feeling like something is stuck in your throat that makes breathing more difficult. You might also feel tightness in your chest and have trouble swallowing. Your skin might break out in hives and start itching, or it might swell up -- particularly around your mouth. It might also get warm and red. However, you might take on an overall bluish color as your blood pressure drops severely and your pulse speeds up. People with anaphylaxis can also end up dizzy, nauseas, vomiting or even losing consciousness. Some people who have had anaphylaxis describe an anxious feeling of impending doom and headache.
If you experience these symptoms, you need to get immediate medical care. If you carry an epinephrine injector with you, that's the time to use it. Then call for an ambulance or get to the emergency room as fast as possible. You'll probably require epinephrine to ease breathing (if you haven't administered it to yourself yet), antihistamines to reduce swelling and itching, steroids to further eliminate allergic responses, and even possibly oxygen, depending on the severity of your anaphylaxis. The sooner you receive medical care, the smaller the chance that your anaphylaxis will progress to a life-threatening case.