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First Aid 

Anaphylaxis (Anaphylactic Shock)

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that affects the entire body and can be fatal if left untreated. Anaphylaxis occurs within seconds to minutes after exposure to a trigger, usually an allergen. The most common triggers include medication, nuts, fish/shellfish, and insect stings (bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, fire ants). Anaphylaxis causes blood vessels to dilate and blood pressure to drop. Subsequently, airways narrow, making it difficult to breathe, and the tongue and throat may begin swelling, also making it difficult to breathe. 

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Red, itchy rash or hives

  • Swelling of the hands, feet, or face

  • Red, itchy, and watery eyes

  • Abdominal pain

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Difficulty breathing/wheezing or gasping

  • Chest tightness

  • Pale complexion

  • Swelling of the tongue or throat

  • Puffy eyes

  • Terror, confusion, or agitation

  • Weak, rapid pulse

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Dizziness/faintness

  • Tingling mouth

  • Difficulty talking/hoarse voice

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical help immediately.

To treat anaphylaxis, take the following steps:

  1. Call for emergency medical help; even if the person improves, continue to seek emergency medical assistance because symptoms of anaphylaxis can suddenly worsen.

  2. If the individual has an epinephrine auto injector (Epi-pen), help them use it by pulling off the safety cap and pushing the tip of the pen firmly against the patient’s thigh until it clicks. Hold the autoinjector in place for 10 seconds, remove the autoinjector, and massage the injection site for 10 seconds. 

  3. Have the individual lie flat on his or her back and cover him or her with a blanket. Do not give the individual anything to drink. If they become pale or develop a weak pulse, have the individual lie down with his or her legs raised in the air.

  4. If the individual begins vomiting or bleeding from the mouth, have him or her turn on his or her side to avoid choking.

  5. If the individual stops breathing or ceases to have a pulse, begin CPR immediately until emergency medical help arrives.  




Austin, M., Crawford, R., & Armstrong, V. J. (2014). First aid manual. (G. M. Piazza, Ed.) (5th ed.). DK Publishing.

Better Health Channel. (n.d.). Allergic reactions emergency first aid.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021, March 26). Anaphylaxis. Mayo Clinic.  

Parkview Health. (2017). How to use an EpiPen in 90 seconds. United States.

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