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Allergic Reaction vs Anaphylaxis: What's the Difference?

Medically reviewed by Martha Juco, MD · Aesthetics

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Feb 06, 2023

Allergic Reaction vs Anaphylaxis: What's the Difference?

When it comes to an allergic reaction vs anaphylaxis, people can get easily confused. This is because of the similarities between these two situations.

However, there are significant differences between an allergic reaction vs anaphylaxis that is important for people to be aware of. Read on to learn more about these two conditions, and how you can distinguish one from the other.

Allergic reaction vs Anaphylaxis: What’s the difference?

Before we get to the differences between allergic reactions vs anaphylaxis, we first need to define what these terms mean. Here’s a brief overview of each:

What is an allergic reaction?

Allergic reactions are related to how our immune system protects our bodies. When allergens such as dust, pollen, or pet dander get into our body, the immune system identifies this as something that’s invading our body.

In response, our immune system sends out antibodies known as Immunoglobulin E or IgE. The IgE antibodies then travel throughout the body and communicate to the cells that there is an invader, and they need to do something about it. This in turn causes an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions can manifest as sneezing, itching, watery eyes, swelling in the mouth, etc.

One way to think of allergic reactions is that they are an overreaction by our immune system to an allergen. This is because, for one reason or another, our body’s immune system perceives the allergen as a threat. This is why people can develop allergies to harmless things such as peanuts, rubber, as well as dust and pollen.

What is anaphylaxis?

If an allergic reaction is the immune system’s overreaction to an allergen, then anaphylaxis is a more severe and serious allergic reaction.

Typically, allergic reactions usually affects only one system of the body. For example, a person might experience itchiness as a symptom, while another can experience sneezing or watery eyes. It’s very rare for a person with allergies to experience a combination of symptoms.

In contrast, anaphylaxis involves more than one system of the body. Typically, either or both the cardiovascular and respiratory systems are involved. This means that a person’s heart and their ability to breathe are seriously affected during anaphylaxis, making it particularly dangerous.

Not all cases of anaphylaxis are life-threatening as it’s possible to experience a mild case of anaphylaxis. However, mild anaphylaxis can quickly escalate and become more serious, so it should never be ignored.

Unlike allergic reactions, serious cases of anaphylaxis don’t just go away. Patients need to be given a shot of epinephrine or adrenaline in order for the severe reaction to stop.

This is also the reason why people who are at risk of anaphylaxis usually care an adrenaline auto-injector with them. This makes sure that if they experience anaphylaxis, it can be dealt with quickly.

Though, in the Philippines, auto-injectors are not yet available. So it’s important for people to be aware of what to do in case someone has anaphylaxis.

How Can You Tell One from the Other?

Here are some symptoms that can let you know if a person is experiencing an allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis:

Allergic reactions

  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Coughing
  • Itchy skin
  • Hives or welts on the skin
  • Redness
  • Swollen lips, tongue, or face


  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrest

In general, allergic reactions should always be observed. If they worsen, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Key Takeaways

When it comes to allergies, the best thing to do would be to know your allergies. These can be done at a clinic or a hospital, and are very straightforward procedures. By knowing your allergies, you can minimize the risk of an allergic reaction, as well as anaphylaxis.

It’s also important to be mindful of the food you eat, as well as what you drink. This helps minimize the risk that you’ll accidentally eat something that you’re seriously allergic to.

Learn more about Allergies here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Martha Juco, MD


Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Feb 06, 2023

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