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Anaphylaxis is the term for a severe allergic reaction. It may begin within minutes, up to a couple hours after exposure to the substance you are allergic to (“allergen”). Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or stomach cramps, itchy rash (hives), swelling of the eyes, lips, face or tongue, wheezing, difficulty breathing or swallowing, throat tightness, chest pain, dizziness or fainting.

This kind of reaction can be life-threatening. Fortunately, your case has responded to treatment. Any remaining symptoms should resolve within 6 to 24 hours.

If you are exposed to the same substance again, you may have the same or more severe reaction. Treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine (adrenalin). This is available by prescription as Epi-Pen for self-injection. If the cause of your reaction is known, you should avoid exposure in the future. If the cause is not known, follow up with your doctor for special testing to determine what you are allergic to.

Home care

  • Rest at home for the next 24 hours.

  • Avoid tobacco and alcohol consumption. These may worsen your symptoms.

  • If you know what caused your reaction today, avoid that in the future since the next reaction may be worse. Let your family members, friends and personal physician know about your allergic reaction.

  • If your allergy was to food, learn how to read food labels so you can check for the offending substance. If a product does not have a label, it is best to avoid it.

  • Consider carrying an identification card or getting a Medic-Alert® bracelet to inform medical personnel of your condition in the event you are not able to do so yourself.

  • If an Epi-Pen was prescribed, carry it at all times. It can be life-saving. Learn how to use the device. If you begin to feel the symptoms of another reaction in the future, use the Epi-Pen to inject yourself, and then call 911. Don’t wait until symptoms become severe.

  • Oral Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is an antihistamine available at drug and grocery stores. Unless a prescription antihistamine was given, Benadryl may be used to reduce itching if large areas of the skin are involved. Use lower doses during the daytime and higher doses at bedtime since the drug may make you sleepy. [NOTE: Do not use Benadryl if you have glaucoma or if you are a man with trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate.] Claritin (loratidine) is an antihistamine that causes less drowsiness and is a good alternative for daytime use.

  • If you were prescribed any medicines to prevent symptoms from returning, be sure to take them exactly as directed.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your doctor or as advised if you are not improving over the next 1 to 2 days. If you do not know what caused this reaction, skin and blood tests, or an “elimination diet” may be helpful. You may locate an allergy specialist in your area by contacting:

  • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 800-822-2762

  • American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

When to seek medical advice

Call your health care provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Worsening of your symptoms

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Swelling in the mouth or face

  • Chest pain

  • Dizziness, weakness or fainting


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