Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. While mild allergic reactions are localized, anaphylaxis is a body-wide reaction and it can cause system-wide inflammation and swelling. In some cases, the air passages swell, making it difficult to breathe. It is important to act

quickly when a person is experiencing anaphylaxis, as it can lead to death if it is not cared for immediately.

Common Causes

Anything that causes other allergic reactions can also cause anaphylaxis, and the causes vary from one person to another. The most common allergens that trigger anaphylaxis include:

  • Insect stings

  • Food

  • Medications


The following steps may help to prevent an anaphylactic incident:

  • Avoid the substances, foods, or insects that cause reactions.

  • Wear a medical identification product and carry the appropriate medication at all times.

What to look for

The signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis may be similar to the signs and symptoms of a mild allergic reaction, but they are more pronounced. A person experiencing an anaphylactic emergency may develop one or more signs and symptoms within seconds or minutes of coming into contact with the allergen.

Anaphylaxis can affect a variety of body systems and can present in various ways. If a person exhibits signs and symptoms from two or more of these categories—especially after contact with an allergen—you should provide care for anaphylaxis:

  • Skin (e.g., swelling of the lips, face, neck, ears, and/or hands, a raised, itchy, blotchy rash, flushing, or hives)

  • Breathing (e.g., a feeling of tightness in the chest or throat, coughing, wheezing, or high-pitched noises)

  • Alertness (e.g., weakness, dizziness, or unresponsiveness)

  • Stomach (e.g., stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea)

What to do

  • If the person has an epinephrine auto-injector, help him or her to use it.

  • Provide reassurance and encourage the person to breathe normally.

  • Help the person get into a comfortable position.

If the person’s condition does not improve 5 minutes after the initial dose of epinephrine and EMS personnel have not yet arrived, help the person take a second dose, if available. The second dose should be given in the leg that you did not use for the first dose.

If responsive, the person may want to take additional medication such as an antihistamine.


©2019 by Pulse Point Canada. Privacy Statement


Pulse Point Canada is not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with the PulsePoint Foundation, or any of its subsidiaries or its affiliates. The official PulsePoint Foundation trademarks “PulsePoint AED” and "PulsePoint Respond" as well as related marks, emblems and images are registered trademarks of the PulsePoint Foundation.