Get CPR Certified in less than 30 minutes. Protect your baby!

Boy experiencing anaphylaxis

What is Anaphylaxis?

Aug 04

Bears have large teeth and scary claws. Cacti have sharp spines. Poison ivy has the iconic red stem. Nature has a way of letting us know when danger is at hand. Yet, throughout our everyday lives, hidden dangers can introduce a threat from just a touch or a small bite to eat. For most, allergies are just an inconvenience, but for some the possibility of anaphylaxis is much more extreme.

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe and often fast reaction to an allergy. Harvard Health describes the bodily systems that are involved: “[Anaphylaxis] involves at least two different body systems (the skin and the lungs, for example). Under certain circumstances, a drop in blood pressure alone may be a tip off that you’re having an anaphylactic reaction.” These symptoms can be intense and even life-threatening.

Swelling within the throat or respiratory system can make it impossible to breathe. A rapid drop in blood pressure can cause fainting, shock and can also be fatal. All of these mean that anaphylaxis is a real emergency. Knowing how to respond in this situation could save your own life or that of a loved one. 

What causes anaphylaxis? 

The Mayo Clinic describes the reaction this way: “some people’s immune systems overreact to substances that don’t normally cause an allergic reaction.” The reaction involves a flood of chemicals that the body uses to ward off an internal threat. Various internal systems can be overwhelmed by this immune response and fail under the stress. These incidents can be triggered by foods or other environmental factors often found in everyday life. The common ones are:

  • Bee stings
  • Peanuts & other nuts
  • Certain medications
  • Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Latex

For those uncertain about different allergens, specific tests can be sought to identify potential anaphylactic triggers. Once you become aware of a severe allergy, the best plan is to be prepared. Talk to your doctor to find out about how best to guard against reactions and what steps can be taken to respond in the case of an emergency, like carrying an Epipen.

How can I respond to a severe allergy reaction?

The first step in responding to an anaphylactic emergency is to identify the problem. Because the reaction is often unexpected and can impact the airways, a person experiencing an anaphylactic reaction may not understand or be able to communicate what is happening to them. Here are the signs that indicate a person may be experiencing this type of emergency:

Signs of anaphylaxis:

  • Nausea & diarrhea
  • Unconsciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling of the throat, eyes, face, and/or lips
  • Throat & tongue “feeling funny” – tingling, numbness, feeling fat.
  • Hives
  • Itching skin
  • Pale skin

Once anaphylaxis is identified, the first step should be to call 911 immediately. Even if symptoms begin to improve, an individual should still seek medical attention in order to reduce the risk of worsening symptoms. Medical professionals often first check for clear airways.

Signs of a closing airway include:

  • swollen tongue
  • throat is closing
  • large amounts of swelling in the throat.

If a person is not able to breathe or is unresponsive, begin CPR immediately. If the person begins vomiting or bleeding from the mouth, turn them on their side to reduce the risk of choking. 

If you suspect someone is experiencing anaphylaxis do the following:

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Ask the person if he/she is carrying an EpiPen (epinephrine).
  • If the person needs help injecting the EpiPen, help them by doing it for them.
  • If the person can swallow, it is beneficial to administer Benadryl or an allergy medicine in addition to the EpiPen. If given quickly, it can help to slow the reaction.

Does administering an EpiPen require training? 

An EpiPen is a small but concentrated dose of epinephrine. Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline, a hormone in our body that stimulates the fight or flight response. It is a vasoconstrictor which constricts the blood vessels, thereby helping to decrease swelling and improve blood pressure.

An EpiPen fights all of the symptoms of anaphylaxis and can be life saving in the midst of a reaction. 

The great news is that EpiPens do not require training to administer. The directions for the injection are found directly on the EpiPen. They are even designed to go through clothing so that they can be used in any circumstance. Simply have the person lay down and remain still.

The pen will instruct you to make the injection into the thigh. In the moment, it can be daunting for some people to take this kind of action. It is helpful to take a deep breath and remember that you may be the only person in the circumstance who can provide life saving care. 


Are you ready to learn infant CPR?

Trusted By Over 20,000 Families

“The entire process was VERY simple. It’s all at your own pace. You can pause videos, read written curriculum, take practice questions and take the exam. You can also go back and review any time you wish.”

Latest Posts

Top 4 Must-Have Pregnancy Apps

Pregnancy can be an overwhelming time of life. On any given day, your emotions can range from excitement, to fear, to exhaustion, to contentment, and back again. And of course, let’s not forget the logistics of pregnancy: the doctor’s appointments, the cravings, the...

Babyproofing Checklist for Peace of Mind With New Babies

Nothing compares to the moment when you first bring a new baby home. The sweet, tiny clothes just waiting to be worn; the nursery set up in all its adorable glory; the unused baby gear ready to be put to the test. It’s all very exciting—and then reality sets in....

Watching Your Kids While Working from Home

In 2023, more of us are working at home than ever before. Some of us have little children that aren't in school all day either. How do we juggle it all? Make a (flexible) schedule. Children thrive on schedules. Consider the day they would be having if they were in...

Seizures: First Aid

A seizure can be a terrifying experience for everyone involved—both the person experiencing the seizure and the people witnessing it. Knowing how to respond to a seizure can help you remain calm if one happens, so you can get the victim the care he or she needs as...

Bee Sting First Aid

Most of the time, a bee sting is not dangerous. Getting stung by a bee can be a scary and painful experience for a child, but won’t do any lasting damage (beyond, of course, a possible fear of bees). That said, bee sting first aid is something every parent should...

How to treat bruising for a child

“Ouch! That’s going to be a bruise.” If you have ever seen a phone screen shatter from a seemingly small height, you might have an appreciation for just how amazing our body is at managing impacts. Following around a toddler for a half hour could give you the same...

How to properly treat a cut or scrape

It happens all of the time. Your kid comes in with a skinned knee. Cutting the vegetables gets a little out of hand. Your arm is caught on the sharp edge of an old fence, and blood starts to seep up from your skin. Since cuts and scrapes are a fact of life, we all...

Board Certified

All of our courses have been approved and certified by our expert board of medical advisors and subject matter experts.

Secure Payments

We use Stripe for our payment processing. Stripe is an industry-leading payment processor that keeps your information secure.

Risk Free - Refunds 

If you're not satisfied with your course, we'll refund your money no questions asked. Simply contact us to request your refund.