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About Anaphylaxis
What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening severe allergic reaction and should always be treated as a medical emergency. Anaphylaxis occurs after exposure to an allergen such as foods, medications, insect stings, or latex.1

Symptoms of anaphylaxis are potentially life-threatening and include any one of the following: difficult/noisy breathing, swelling of the tongue, swelling/tightness in throat, difficultly talking and/or hoarse voice, wheeze or persistent cough, persistent dizziness and/or collapse, becoming pale and floppy (in young children).1

Symptoms of a mild to moderate allergic reaction may include swelling of face, lips and/or eyes, hives, welts, body redness, tingling of the mouth, abdominal pain and vomiting (with the exception of an insect allergy where abdominal pain and vomiting may be signs of a severe allergic reaction/anaphylaxis).

An anaphylactic emergency therefore requires rapid treatment.2

Why does anaphylaxis occur?

Anaphylaxis can occur in people who are exposed to an allergen to which a person is allergic.1 As the name suggests, an allergen is something that triggers an allergic reaction (e.g. food proteins, medications, insect venom, latex rubber).1

The function of the immune system is to protect the body from foreign invaders. In people with severe allergies or anaphylaxis, the immune system 'overreacts' to the allergen. Contact with, or ingestion of this allergen sets off a chain reaction in a person’s immune system that may lead to anaphylaxis. Several factors can influence the severity of allergic reaction. These include exercise, heat, alcohol, and in food allergic people, the amount eaten, and how it is prepared.1

How is anaphylaxis treated?

Anaphylaxis is both preventable and treatable. Knowing your triggers and avoiding them is crucial to help prevent anaphylaxis from occurring.1,2 A referral to a clinical immunology/allergy specialist will help you identify your triggers and learn strategies for avoidance and prevention.1 However, accidental exposure to a trigger can sometimes happen, even though you are careful. So it is important to be prepared by having an Anaphylaxis Action Plan that you have discussed with your GP or specialist, and by carrying your emergency medication for anaphylaxis with you in case of emergency. The action plan will help you:1

When a person is experiencing anaphylaxis, administering the emergency medication for anaphylaxis as soon as possible can be life-saving.2 This helps to alleviate wheezing and shortness of breath, maintains your blood pressure and helps prevent shock, relieves swelling and itching or rashes, and has many other effects that relive the anaphylactic symptoms.2

Even though anaphylaxis frequently occurs at home, it can still occur in settings outside the home, such as in hospitals, at a friend or family member's house, at work, in a restaurant, whilst travelling, at school and outdoors.3 That's why it is so important to be prepared by having your emergency medication for anaphylaxis with you at all times.

You can find more help and advice on living with allergies and anaphylaxis from the following organisations:

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy is a professional medical organisation for allergy specialists. Its website contains action plans, e-training courses and other useful information specifically for patients.
A&AA is a charitable, not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to to provide support and awareness of allergy in the Australian community.
Allergy New Zealand is a national charity that provides you with reliable information, education and support so you can manage your or your child’s allergy.

For more information about anaphylaxis and living with severe allergies, visit

1. ASCIA – Information for patients, consumers and carers: "Anaphylaxis", 2015. Available at Accessed August 2016.
2. Simons FER et al. WAO Journal 2011; 4:13-37.
3. Wood RA et al; J Allergy Clin Immunol 2014; 133(2):461-467.