Anaphylactic shock (Anaphylaxis)

Anaphylactic shock is an acute, life-threatening reaction that requires immediate care. The symptoms come quickly – it usually starts with itching in the palms and soles of the feet. Soon you will have palpitations, respiratory distress, stomach pain, hypotension and impaired blood circulation. In children, the shock is mainly caused by food allergy, whereas adults are usually affected by medication, bee and wasp stings.


If you or anyone in your vicinity shows symptoms of anaphylactic shock, always seek emergency care and wait for an ambulance.


Anaphylaxis typically presents many different symptoms over minutes or hours with an average onset of 5 to 30 minutes if exposure is intravenous and 2 hours if from eating food. The most common areas affected include: skin (80–90%), respiratory (70%), gastrointestinal (30–45%), heart and vasculature (10–45%), and central nervous system (10–15%) with usually two or more being involved.


Rashes, itching, swollen lips, swelling of the face and throat tend to be early signs of anaphylaxis.


Here’s how the symptoms usually develop:


Initial stage


  • itching in palms and soles of feet
  • swelling of the throat
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling of worry and discomfort.


Progress stage


  • fast heart rate 
  • swelling of the face and hives
  • severe breathing difficulties
  • severe abdominal pain
  • dizziness and fainting.


Shock stage


  • a drop in blood pressure and poor blood circulation
  • unconsciousness and cardiac arrest.

Prevention and protection

Avoidance of the trigger of anaphylaxis is recommended. In cases where this may not be possible, desensitization may be an option. Immunotherapy with venoms is effective at desensitizing 80–90% of adults and 98% of children against allergies to bees, wasps, hornets, yellowjackets and fire ants. Oral immunotherapy may be effective at desensitizing some people to certain food including milk, eggs, nuts and peanuts. Desensitization is also possible for many medications.


Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that may require resuscitation measures such as airway management, supplemental oxygen, large volumes of intravenous fluids, and close monitoring.


An anaphylactic shock is treated acutely with adrenaline, sometimes with antihistamines and steroids (for example dexamethasone). People with respiratory problems also receive bronchodilator treatment.

What you can do for yourself:

If you already know that you have severe allergic reactions, you should of course try to avoid food and situations that can cause anaphylaxis.


If you have previously received adrenaline pens and other medicines for allergic shock, you should always carry them with you. 


It is important that relatives also know how to use an adrenaline pen in an emergency.


In case of anaphylactic shock:


  • call and wait for the ambulance
  • Use an adrenaline pen if you have one
  • If possible, take antihistamines, cortisone tablets, and bronchodilators.

When to consult a doctor

If you experience symptoms suggestive of anaphylactic shock, seek emergency care quickly or call for an ambulance – this is a potentially life-threatening condition.


Seek medical attention immediately if you have an acute allergic reaction with:


  • palpitations and chest pressure
  • respiratory disorders
  • abdominal pains
  • feeling faint with hypotension
  • cold hands and feet as a result of impaired blood circulation.

How APPOTEK can help

APPOTEK cannot help with anaphylaxis. You should seek emergency care quickly or call for an ambulance – this is a potentially life-threatening condition.


Vadym Diadiun, Doctor of Medicine, M.D.