Responding To Allergy Emergencies

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

Globally, 250 million people may be at risk for life-threatening allergic reactions.

Anaphylaxis is unpredictable and can happen anywhere, anytime, so it’s important to know how to respond to an allergic emergency while waiting for medically trained professionals to arrive. “If you suspect someone is suffering from anaphylaxis, you need to immediately call your local medical emergency number. You then need to assess if the person is carrying an adrenaline auto-injector and administer immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to progress. Prompt treatment could save a life,” says Emergency Medicine Specialist Dr Charl van Loggerenberg.

About Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is unpredictable and rapid in onset and occurs when someone comes into contact with an allergic trigger. The most common food allergens that can cause anaphylaxis are cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans, etc.), fish and shellfish. Wasp or bee stings, as well as exercise and certain medications, may also cause anaphylaxis. In about 20 percent of cases, no trigger is identified.

Signs And Symptoms Of Anaphylaxis

These may vary from one person to another but may include skin reactions such as:

  1. Hives, itching, and flushed or pale skin.

  2. Swelling of the face, eyes, lips or throat.

  3. Constriction of the airways leading to wheezing and breathing difficulty.

  4. Nausea and vomiting, dizziness, fainting or unconsciousness.

Anaphylaxis Action Plan

Anyone who lives with, cares for or hosts someone with a potentially life-threatening (severe) allergy, including family members, friends and school personnel, are encouraged to develop an anaphylaxis action plan which includes the following four steps:

  1. Avoiding known allergens.

  2. Knowing what signs and symptoms to look for.

  3. Using an auto-injector should anaphylaxis occur.

  4. Seeking immediate emergency medical assistance.

A well-stocked first-aid kit can also help in emergency situations. At least one first-aid kit should be kept in your home. In addition to basic supplies such as bandages, sterile dressings, creams and antiseptic solutions, certain medications can be included such as an adrenaline auto-injector which is available on prescription from your doctor.

Although basic first aid skills are vital, recent research conducted by United Kingdom’s leading first aid charity St John Ambulance shows that two out of three people wouldn’t feel confident to save a life. Furthermore, 24 percent of those surveyed said that they would not be able to do anything until an ambulance arrived. What might be even more alarming is that just over a quarter of people thought they’d be able to perform first aid – but the survey showed that due to insufficient first aid knowledge and skills, most would be doing more harm than good. Dr Van Loggerenberg agrees that not enough South Africans are trained in basic first aid and adds that knowledge about what to do in a variety of emergency situations is imperative.


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