Anaphylactic shock: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment

Anaphylactic shock: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment


Anaphylactic shock is a serious allergic reaction that occurs after coming into contact with a substance to which you are allergic, such as shrimp, peanuts or nuts, bee venom or medicines, such as antibiotics or radiological contrasts, for example.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis appear a few seconds or minutes after contact with the allergen, which may cause difficulty breathing, a feeling of a closed throat, swelling in the mouth, tongue or face, formation of blisters on the skin or hives, which can be life-threatening if is not treated immediately.

Therefore, when you present symptoms or see someone who is experiencing symptoms of anaphylactic shock, you should go to the nearest emergency room immediately, so that treatment can be started as quickly as possible to avoid complications.

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Anaphylactic shock symptoms

The main symptoms of anaphylactic shock are:

  1. Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath;
  2. Wheezing when breathing and wheezing;
  3. Intense itching and redness of the skin;
  4. Formation of blisters on the skin;
  5. Swelling of the mouth, tongue, eyes and face;
  6. Closed throat sensation;
  7. Difficulty swallowing or speaking;
  8. Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting;
  9. Increased heart rate;
  10. Dizziness and feeling of fainting;
  11. Intense sweating;
  12. Pallor;
  13. Mental confusion.

Symptoms of anaphylactic shock appear a few seconds to an hour after a person comes into contact with an object or substance capable of triggering a severe allergic response.

It is important that as soon as the symptoms of anaphylactic shock are identified, the person is taken to the hospital so that treatment can begin, otherwise there is a risk of complications that could put the person's life at risk. Check out first aid for anaphylactic shock.

How to confirm the diagnosis

The diagnosis of anaphylactic shock is made by the general practitioner at the hospital, who must evaluate the symptoms and contact with allergenic substances, and laboratory tests are not necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

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Possible causes

Anaphylactic shock is caused by an exaggerated response of the immune system, which produces antibodies and other substances, when the person comes into contact with a substance to which they are allergic.

Some substances that are capable of causing anaphylactic shock are:

  • Medicines, such as antibiotics, analgesics, anti-inflammatories, vaccines or anesthetics;
  • Iodine, present in foods, such as seafood, or medicinal products such as povidone-iodine or radiological contrasts;
  • Foods, such as shrimp, fish, shellfish, peanuts, milk, eggs, kiwi, wheat or soy;
  • Materials containing latex, such as gloves, condoms, party balloons or tourniquets used for blood tests;
  • Metals, such as silver, nickel or cobalt;
  • Insect bites, such as ants, bees, wasps or wasps;
  • Mite feces, mold, pollen, animal hair or saliva.

Furthermore, some cosmetic products can also cause anaphylactic shock, such as perfumes, shampoos, creams or soaps, for example.

These substances do not always cause anaphylactic shock and can only cause allergic reactions, which you should be aware of to avoid complications. Find out the most common allergy symptoms.

How the treatment is carried out

Treatment for anaphylactic shock should be carried out as quickly as possible in the emergency room or in a hospital, with the injection of adrenaline into the muscle, antihistamines and corticosteroids, such as diphenhydramine, methylprednisolone or hydrocortisone, intramuscularly or intravenously, and the use of an oxygen mask to help with breathing.

In the most serious cases, in which the swelling of the throat prevents the passage of air to the lungs, it is necessary to perform a cricothyroidotomy, which is a surgical procedure in which a cut is made in the throat, which makes it possible to maintain breathing, in order to avoid severe brain changes.

After treatment, it may be necessary for the patient to stay in the hospital for a few hours to observe all signs and symptoms, preventing anaphylactic shock from recurring.

What to do if you have already had an anaphylactic shock

After having an anaphylactic shock, it is recommended to consult an allergist to identify the substance that is causing a serious allergic reaction, and an allergy test may be performed. Find out how the allergy test is done.

After identifying the cause of the allergic reaction, the most important thing is to avoid coming into contact with that substance again.

However, in cases where there is a greater risk of developing an allergic reaction or when it is very difficult to avoid contact with the substance, the doctor may also prescribe an injection of epinephrine that must always be carried with the person and can be used whenever the first few Shock symptoms appear until the person is treated at the hospital. Learn how to use the adrenaline injection.