In modern Australia allergies are not as uncommon as they once were.
Whether it’s better awareness or better diagnosis the estimates are that around 19.6% of the Australian population has at least one allergic disease.
That’s a lot of people with the potential to suffer from anaphylaxis, which is why you should be prepared on treating the condition if you encounter it.
What Is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is the most extreme form of allergic reaction suffered by humans, and it can be life threatening. It should be considered as a medical emergency that is treated without delay, and it usually involves urgent medical intervention.
Essentially, anaphylaxis is a general allergic reaction that involves more than one of the body’s systems. So, while an allergy reaction may set off a skin reaction, an anaphylaxis reaction will involve both skin and respiratory, gastro-intestinal or cardiovascular systems. An anaphylaxis reaction can occur anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours after the patient is exposed to the trigger, but can very quickly escalate.
What Causes Anaphylaxis?
There are so many things that can cause anaphylaxis, but some things are more commonly behind anaphylaxis reactions.
The most common food triggers are eggs, milk, peanuts, sesame, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. For some people that are very sensitive to these items, they don’t even need to consume it to set off a reaction. Just smelling it, or even kissing someone who has eaten it, is enough. Bites and stings, particularly from bees, wasps and ants are also common anaphylaxis triggers, as are some over the counter and even alternative medicines.
When treating someone dealing with an anaphylaxis reaction it’s important to stay focused on them. Don’t worry so much about what triggered the reaction, but rather what you can do to help.
Symptoms of Anaphylaxis
Before we get into the symptoms of a full anaphylaxis reaction, it’s important to know the symptoms that can precede that reaction. These are moderate allergy symptoms, and include:
- Lip, face or eye swelling
- Hives and welts on the body
- Tingling sensation in the mouth
- Abdominal pain and vomiting
These symptoms are often precursors to a full-blown anaphylaxis reaction, which will include symptoms like:
- Difficulty breathing, and noisy breathing
- Tongue swelling
- Swelling and/or tightness in throat
- Trouble talking
- Wheezing and/or coughing
- Dizziness or collapse
- Pale, floppy body, in young children
With these in mind, it is important for any rescuer like you to know the basic procedures on how to treat anaphylaxis.
There is always a chance with anaphylaxis that the patient will lose consciousness, but whether they are conscious or not first aid responders should always follow the DRSABCD protocol.
The DRSABCD protocol is the St John Ambulance’s first step in many first aid cases, and anaphylaxis is no different. First the first aider should check that neither the patient, themselves, or those around them are in any Danger. Then, the first aider should attempt to gain a Response from the patient, particularly if they are not conscious. The next step is to Send for help, usually by calling Triple Zero (000). Then it’s time to assess the patient. You do this by checking that their Airway is clear and that they are Breathing properly. If they are not breathing, it’s time to start CPR, which may escalate into needing a Defibrillator.
Most people who know they have a problem with severe allergies, or who have a history of anaphylaxis, should be carrying an auto-injector on them. This is going to be an Epipen® or an AnaPen®. If they are not carrying one, many first aid kits will also include an auto-injector. For those people treating an anaphylaxis reaction where the patient has become unconscious, immediately inject with the auto-injector. If the patient is still conscious, ensure they’re sitting or lying in a position that helps with breathing first, and then give them the auto-injector to use. The patient should always administer the auto-injector themselves, but you should ask them for assistance if they are not capable.
Following the injection from the auto-injector, you need to keep a very close eye on your patient. Make sure they’re in a comfortable lying or sitting position, and keep them calm and breathing as much as they’re capable. Take a moment to observe how they breathe, and how their pulse sounds, and make a note of it to tell paramedics when they arrive.
If after give minutes there is no change to their condition, or it has gotten worse, another auto-injector should be given to the patient, and they should be carefully monitored while help is on the way.
For More Information
All First Aid information in this article was sourced from the St. John Ambulance Australia website. You can read more about First Aid treatments and courses here. Remember that in an emergency always dial Triple Zero (000) for assistance.
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.