Anaphylaxis is a rare but severe allergic reaction that can occur after exposure to an allergy-causing substance. If you have a history of allergies or a family history of anaphylactic reactions, you may be at higher risk. Causes of anaphylaxis include certain medications, latex, insect bites and stings, and foods such as peanuts, shellfish, and dairy products. Anaphylactic reactions are rarely caused by pollens.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • intense itching or burning
  • sneezing or coughing
  • flushing, redness of the skin
  • watery eyes
  • hives
  • tightness in chest or difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • tongue swelling
  • nausea or vomiting
  • rapid or weak pulse
  • decreased or low blood pressure
  • shock
  • dizziness or fainting

If you think you have had an anaphylactic response, you should see an allergy specialist. The specialist will evaluate your symptoms and ask questions related to your exposure and reactions to different allergy-causing substances. This will determine if you have had an anaphylactic response, and if so, what has triggered it. Allergy testing may also be part of the evaluation. Although anaphylaxis is rare, it is serious and potentially life-threatening.


Epinephrine (adrenaline) is the medication that is most commonly used to treat anaphylaxis. If you are at risk, your doctor or specialist may recommend you carry an epinephrine kit, which includes a self-injecting shot. The shot can be self-administered, and should be given immediately after the reaction until professional medical attention is available. Follow-up by a medical professional should be performed as soon as possible. You may also want to wear a MedicAlert bracelet indicating your condition, and instruct family members and friends how to administer the epinephrine to you in case you have a reaction and are unable to administer it to yourself.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team