backup og meta

What to Do When You or Someone You Know Experiences Anaphylaxis

Medically reviewed by Jaiem Maranan, RN MD · General Practitioner

Written by Sandra Nacino · Updated Oct 14, 2022

    What to Do When You or Someone You Know Experiences Anaphylaxis

    When you have allergies, your immune system overreacts and interprets a usually harmless foreign substance as harmful. Your body’s reactions—sneezing, rashes, or an upset stomach, for example—are manifestations of the body’s attempt to get rid of the said substance.

    In many cases, allergic reactions are mild or moderate. The symptoms may last for a few minutes or hours, and most of the time disappear as soon as you take medications that stop your body from producing excess antibodies.

    However, there are also people whose allergies are so severe to the point of being life-threatening. This type of reaction is called anaphylaxis. ¹

    While it can be scary to experience anaphylaxis or to witness someone having it, you need to stay calm as much as possible and be quick in addressing the situation. With immediate and properly administered treatment, you can save lives.

    That said, you may not have enough time to search the internet for “first aid for anaphylaxis” when someone is already suffering from it. Thus, it’s best to know more about the condition and what you can do about it even before it happens.

    Here are some important things to know about anaphylaxis:

    What Causes Anaphylaxis?

    Most of the time, anaphylaxis is caused by severe food allergies. Some of the most common culprits include peanuts, tree nuts like walnuts and cashews, eggs, cow’s milk, shellfish (particularly shrimp), soy, and wheat. 

    That said, there are also other allergens that may cause anaphylaxis. These include latex, insect venom, and certain medications. Do note that the medication itself doesn’t cause the allergic reaction⁴, but rather a certain active ingredient. Meanwhile, pollen, pet dander, and other allergens that are inhaled rarely cause anaphylactic shock.

    What Are the Symptoms of Anaphylaxis?

    Depending on the patient, anaphylaxis may manifest in one or multiple ways. The most visible symptoms³ include skin reactions like rashes, reddened skin, or pale skin, as well as swelling on the face or where the allergen made contact.

    A person going through anaphylaxis may also experience the following:

  • shortness of breath
  • tightness of the chest
  • swollen tongue, especially if the cause is food
  • difficulty swallowing
  • stomach pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • cramps
  • confusion 
  • loss of consciousness
  • Non-visible signs of anaphylaxis include low blood pressure and a weak, rapid pulse.

    Many of the symptoms above manifest almost immediately and get progressively worse. For example, a rash may start out on a small patch of skin and then eventually cover the entire body. However, there are cases of anaphylaxis in which the reaction doesn’t happen until hours later.

    What Do You Do If You or Someone Experiences Anaphylaxis?

    If you’re experiencing anaphylaxis, you must administer medication, such as adrenaline (epinephrine), at once.

    The ONLY place to inject this is on your outer mid-thigh; if you’re unable, don’t use it anymore or have someone else inject it for you. Injecting adrenaline (epinephrine) into any part of the body may cause serious side effects.

    Meanwhile, if you’re a bystander while a person experiences anaphylaxis, here are some important steps you can take:

  • Remove the inciting cause, if possible
  • If not in respiratory distress, lay the person face up on a flat surface, with the legs slightly elevated (to maximize perfusion of vital organs). If in respiratory distress or if vomiting, place in position of comfort, with the legs slightly elevated as well
  • Ask if the person has an adrenaline injector.
  • If the answer to the above is yes, get the adrenaline injector and confirm if the person needs help in using it. To do this, press the injector against the person’s outer thigh.
  • If the person is wearing tight clothing, a belt, or similar accessories, loosen them.
  • Keep the person warm using a blanket or even a jacket.
  • Don’t make the person drink anything to prevent choking or vomiting.
  • Turn the person’s head to the side if there’s vomiting or bleeding from the mouth.
  • Call an ambulance.
  • Call the person’s emergency contact.
  • After the adrenaline injector has been used, monitor the patient’s condition for about 5 minutes. Their condition should improve within that time; if there aren’t any changes, administer a second shot of adrenaline.

    If the patient isn’t breathing, doesn’t show any signs of movement, or doesn’t have a pulse (this can be checked by palpating the area below the right jaw of the patient), perform CPR immediately.

    In case you don’t have any training, you can still conduct what is called hands-only or compression-only CPR.⁶

    To do this, press hard on the patient’s chest (2-inch depth per compression) and aim for about 100 compressions every minute. Do this until the patient starts breathing again or until the emergency responders arrive.

    If the patient has multiple allergy medications, make sure to use the adrenaline injector first. Then, once you see an improvement, you can follow up with other treatments (e.g., an inhaler).

    It’s also a must to have the patient transferred to a hospital for observation, even if they responded well to the adrenaline shot. This is because another anaphylaxis attack may happen after the initial one. Usually, doctors will monitor the patient for 4 to 5 hours.

    As previously mentioned, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening if not given immediate treatment. Thus, you need to be observant so you can do what is necessary. Take note of the details above so you can keep yourself, your loved ones, or even strangers safe in the event of anaphylactic shock.

    Learn more about first aid here


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

    Medically reviewed by

    Jaiem Maranan, RN MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Sandra Nacino · Updated Oct 14, 2022

    advertisement iconadvertisement

    Was this article helpful?

    advertisement iconadvertisement
    advertisement iconadvertisement