Anaphylaxis: What are the symptoms?
How can we tell if someone is having anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis can affect at least four systems in the body: Skin, respiratory, cardiovascular, and digestive.
Most frequently, an episode of anaphylaxis will begin with symptoms that involve the skin or breathing. Reference [Ring J, Behrendt H, de Weck A. History and classification of anaphylaxis. Chem Immunol Allergy. 2010; 95:6]. The general rule is that once symptoms like these appear in two or more systems of the body (for example, skin and circulation), what is happening should be identified as anaphylaxis. Reference [Ring J, Brockow K, Behrendt H. History and classification of anaphylaxis. In: Bock G, Goode J, eds. Anaphylaxis. Novartis Foundation Symposium 257. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 2004; 6–16; discussion –24].
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The symptoms of anaphylaxis are listed below. Most often a person will have a subset of these symptoms rather than every single one.
Table: Symptoms of anaphylaxis
|Body system||Specific symptoms|
|Skin||General||Flushing. Itching. Hives. Swelling. A measles-like rash. Goose bumps or raised hair on neck, back, arms, etc.|
|Mouth||Itchiness or tingling of lips, tongue, and roof of mouth. Metallic taste in mouth. Swelling of lips, tongue, palate, or dangling edge of soft palate (uvula).|
|Eyes||Itchiness, redness, and swelling around eyes. Red, itchy eyes. Tearing.|
|Breathing||Laryngeal||Itching and tightness in the throat. Swallowing difficult or impossible. Hoarseness or difficulty speaking. A dry, disjointed cough. A high-pitched sound when inhaling. An inability to take in enough oxygen. Itchiness in the ears.|
|Lung||Shortness of breath. Labored breathing. Chest tightness. Deep cough and wheezing. Lack of oxygen.|
|Nose||Itching. Congestion. Runny nose. Sneezing.|
|Circulation||Blood pressure||Symptoms of low blood pressure (dizziness, light headedness, blurred vision, increased pulse). Collapse. Loss of bladder or bowel control.|
|Faintness||Feeling of faintness. Fainting. Confusion.|
|Heart||Chest pain. Abnormal heart rhythm.|
|Digestion||GI||Sick to stomach (nausea). Painful abdominal cramps. Throwing up (vomiting). Diarrhea.|
|Other||Labor-like uterine contractions (in women). A feeling of impending doom. Seizures.|
References for the table: Sampson-05 [Sampson HA, Muñoz-Furlong A, Bock SA, Schmitt C, Bass R, Chowdhury BA, et al. Symposium on the definition and management of anaphylaxis: Summary report. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2005; 115:8], Wyatt [Wyatt R. Anaphylaxis: How to recognize, treat, and prevent potentially fatal attacks. Postgraduate Medicine Online 1996; 100:87–104], Sampson-06 [Sampson HA, Muñoz-Furlong A, et al. Second symposium on the definition and management of anaphylaxis: Summary report - Second National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease/Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network symposium. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2006; 117:7], Simons [Simons FER. Anaphylaxis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010; 125:S161–81], and Alcoceba [Alcoceba E, Gonzalez M, Gaig P, Figuerola E, Auguet T, Olona M. Edema of the uvula: Etiology, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment. [Case report] J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol. 2010;20(1):80–83].
Page last updated: May 16, 2011