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Avoiding Anaphylaxis

Do You Know How to Prevent a Severe Allergic Reaction?

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Anaphylaxis is a rare, but potentially fatal allergic reaction, that requires immediate attention and treatment. If you have a history of allergies or asthma and have had a severe reaction, you are at greater risk for anaphylaxis. Educating yourself about anaphylaxis is one of the most important steps you can take to manage your condition.

Know your trigger. If you’ve had anaphylaxis, it’s very important to know what triggered the reaction. Your doctor can review your medical history and, if necessary, conduct diagnostic tests. The most common triggers are

Food, including peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts and pecans), fish, shellfish, cow’s milk, and eggs.

Latex, which is found in disposable gloves, intravenous tubes, syringes, adhesive tapes, and catheters. Healthcare workers, children with spina bifida or genitourinary abnormalities, and people who work with natural latex are at higher risk for latex-induced anaphylaxis.

Medication, including penicillin, aspirin, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen), and anesthesia.

Insect stings, with bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants being the most likely to trigger anaphylaxis.

If you’ve had anaphylaxis, it’s very important to know what triggered the reaction.

Avoid your trigger. Avoidance is the most effective way to prevent anaphylaxis. Your doctor can work with you to develop specific avoidance measures tailored to your age, activities, occupation, hobbies, home environment, and access to medical care. Here are some general avoidance techniques for common triggers:

⇒ Food allergies
Be a label detective and make sure you review all food ingredient labels carefully to uncover potential allergens. When eating out, ask the restaurant how food is prepared and what ingredients are used. If you have a child with a history of anaphylaxis, it’s imperative to make sure that school personnel are informed of the child’s condition and a treatment plan is provided, including the administration of epinephrine.

⇒ Latex
Before having any medical, surgical, or dental procedure, it’s important to inform your doctor about your condition and make sure that the procedure is performed in a latex-safe environment. If possible, request that you be the first procedure for the day to further limit possible exposure. Healthcare workers who have a latex allergy should wear non-latex, powder-free gloves and have colleagues do the same.

⇒ Medications
Make sure all of your doctors are aware of any reactions you’ve had to medications so that they can prescribe safe alternatives and alert you to other medications you may need to avoid. If there are no alternative medications, you may be a candidate for desensitization>, a treatment that introduces a small dose of the medication you are allergic to. As your body becomes more tolerant to the medication, the dosage can be increased over time. While the treatment is effective, it’s only temporary and must be repeated if the medication is needed again in the future.

⇒ Insect stings
To help prevent insect stings, avoid walking barefoot in grass; drinking from open soft drink cans; and wearing bright-colored clothing with flowery patterns and sweet smelling perfumes, hairsprays, and lotion during active insect season in late summer and early fall. Your doctor can also provide a preventative treatment called venom immunotherapy (or venom allergy shots) for insect sting allergy. The treatment works by introducing gradually increasing doses of purified insect venom, and has been shown to be around 90 percent effective in preventing future allergic reactions to insect stings.

Be prepared. Prompt recognition of the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis is critical. If you unexpectedly come into contact with your trigger, you should immediately follow the emergency plan outlined by your doctor, including the self-administration of epinephrine. If there is any doubt about the reaction, it is generally better to administer the epinephrine.

Seek treatment. If a severe reaction does occur and epinephrine is administered, you should be transported to the nearest emergency facility by ambulance for additional monitoring.

Tell family and friends. Family and friends should be aware of your condition and your triggers, and should know how to recognize anaphylactic symptoms. If you carry epinephrine, alert them to where you keep it and how to use it.

Wear identification. Wear or carry identification or jewelry noting your condition and the offending allergens.


MedicAlert® provides identification and medical information in emergencies, as well as a 24-hour emergency response service. Call (888) 633-4298 or visit for more information.

Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2010.