If you are the designated first aider in your workplace it is best to be prepared for every eventuality. Whilst most accidents or illnesses at work or generally minor, some things like anaphylactic shock can be lethal. Understanding this rare reaction to allergies can ultimately save a life. In the workplace or at home knowing the causes, the symptoms and what to do can make all the difference.
What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a severe and extreme allergic reaction. It is potentially life-threatening that can develop rapidly. The whole body is affected, often within minutes of exposure to the substance which causes the allergic reaction. However the effects can manifest themselves over several hours.
It is also known as anaphylactic shock.
What can cause anaphylaxis?
It is caused by a problem with the immune system which is the body’s natural defence against illness or infection. In the case of anaphylaxis the immune system overreacts to what could be classed as a harmless substance and releases a number of chemicals, such as histamine to deal with the mistaken threat.
Triggers can come in a number of different guises although it is possible that no trigger is found and the cause remains unknown. This is known as idiopathic anaphylaxis.
Common triggers include foods such as peanuts (more than half of food-related anaphylaxis are caused by peanuts), tree nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts), sesame, fish, shellfish, dairy products and eggs. Some types of fruit – bananas, grapes, kiwi fruit and strawberries have also been known to cause anaphylactic shock.
Non-food causes include wasp or bee stings, natural latex (rubber), penicillin, general anaesthetic or any other drug or injection. It is estimated that 1 in 100 people will experience an allergic reaction after a wasp or bee sting. However of this group only a small number of people will then go on to experience severe anaphylaxis.
In some people even exercise can trigger a severe reaction — either on its own or in combination with other factors such as food or drugs (e.g. aspirin).
What are the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction?
- generalised flushing of the skin
- nettle rash anywhere on the body (hives)
- sense of impending doom
- abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting
- sudden feeling of weakness (caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure)
- swelling of throat and mouth
- swollen eyes, lips, hands and feet
- difficulty in swallowing or speaking
- alterations in heart rate
- severe asthma
- collapse and unconsciousness
It is important to note that a person would not necessarily experience all of these symptoms in the same episode.
What do you do if someone (or myself) shows signs of Anaphylaxis
Any severe reaction should be treated as potential Anaphylaxis and therefore a medical emergency. Dial 999 and if available (and you have been trained in its use) administer a shot of adrenaline as soon as possible.
What is the treatment for a severe reaction?
Adrenaline auto-injectors are prescribed for those believed to be at risk. Adrenaline (also referred to as Epinephrine) works quickly to constrict blood vessels. The injection then begins to relax the smooth muscles in the lungs whilst stimulating the heartbeat. It also helps to stop swelling around the face and lips.
People with a history of anaphylaxis will have an auto-injector readily available. The device is injected into their outer thigh and held in place for 10 seconds. There are three different kinds of auto-injector. These are:
Each type is slightly different and if you are to administer one you should make sure you know how to use the auto-injector correctly. The NHS offers a “trainer” kit to those at risk so that they can practice giving themselves or their child injections.
TutorCare offer a course on Anaphylaxis First Aid Training
The course is aimed at anyone who may need training relating the treatment of allergic reactions. It is highly recommended that anyone working in the childcare sector take such a course but it is also suitable to those assigned as the designated workplace first aiders. The course deals with the prevention, recognition of symptoms and the treatment of such reactions. It also deals with the correct use of auto-injectors and CPR.
Who is at risk from anaphylaxis?
If a patient has suffered from a bad allergic reaction in the past, whatever the cause, then any future reaction is also likely to be as severe if not worse. If a significant reaction to a tiny dose does occur, or a reaction has occurred on contact with skin, this might also be a sign that a larger dose may trigger an extreme reaction. Those with asthma as well as allergies are recommended to be seen by an allergy specialist because asthma can mean they are more at risk. If you are concerned speak to a GP. Where there is a chance of an allergy being severe, the GP would normally refer the patient to an NHS allergy clinic.
For more information visit – http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Anaphylaxis/Pages/Introduction.aspx