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What is Anaphylaxis?


Anaphylaxis (anna - fill -axis) is a serious allergic reaction. It can be life-threatening. Food is the most common cause of anaphylaxis, but insect stings, medicine, latex, or exercise can also cause a reaction. The commonest food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, egg and milk products.

Anaphylaxis affects multiple body systems: skin, upper and lower respiratory, gastro-intestinal and cardiovascular. Anaphylactic shock is an explosive overreaction of the body's immune system to a triggering agent (allergen). It can be characterized by swelling, difficulty breathing, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, circulatory collapse, coma and death.

Symptoms of anaphylactic shock tend to develop rapidly although the initial presentation can be delayed and/or deceptively mild. The victim may become uneasy, upset and red in the face. They may also develop a rapid heartbeat, prickling and itchiness in the skin, throbbing in the ears, sneezing, coughing and difficulty breathing. Shock may then follow, in which blood vessels become leaky, blood pressure falls and the person becomes cold, clammy and faint.

Approximately 1-2 percent of Canadians live with the risk of an anaphylactic reaction. More than 50 percent of Canadians know someone with a life-threatening allergy.

Although anaphylaxis is most often diagnosed in childhood, it can also develop later in life. Living with anaphylaxis can be a challenge. People with this condition must learn how to avoid the allergen that causes their reaction. They must also be prepared to manage an unexpected reaction.


If you, or someone you love, has allergy concerns, make sure that you bring them up with your doctor and follow up with a referral to an allergist if necessary.

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