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A serious or life threatening allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis.

The most common causes of anaphylaxis are foods, medications, and insect venom stings.

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?

Symptoms usually begin within 5-60 minutes and include:

  • Flushed face, hives or a rash, red and itchy skin

  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, and throat, trouble swallowing

  • A tight feeling in the chest, trouble breathing or speaking, cough

  • Cramps, diarrhea, vomiting

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Anxiety, distress, feeling faint, sense of doom

  • Loss of consciousness

Symptoms of anaphylaxis can be worse if you have uncontrolled asthma or other health problems

such as lung or cardiac disease.

You can have different symptoms each time you are exposed.

If your first reaction was mild, that does not mean the next one will be.

How is anaphylaxis treated?

Epinephrine is the ONLY medication that optimally treats anaphylaxis. If you have a severe allergy, you must carry an epinephrine autoinjector (such as an EpiPen) at all times and be familiar with how to administer it.

It is most effective if given before symptoms become severe, therefore should be given as soon as symptoms appear.


The injection must be followed by further treatment and observation in the Emergency Department of your nearest hospital.

Antihistamines or puffers may be given by a physician in addition to epinephrine but are NOT substitutes for epinephrine.

Check the expiry date of your epinephrine autoinjector regularly or register for reminders on the product website.

Illustrations used with permission. Provided courtesy of EBME inc. and WikiHow.

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