Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
During an anaphylactic attack, an emergency medical team may perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if you stop breathing or your heart stops beating. You may be given medications including:
- Epinephrine (adrenaline) to reduce your body's allergic response
- Oxygen, to help compensate for restricted breathing
- Intravenous (IV) antihistamines and cortisone to reduce inflammation of your air passages and improve breathing
- A beta-agonist (such as albuterol) to relieve breathing symptoms
What to do in an emergency
If you're with someone who is having an allergic reaction and shows signs of shock caused by anaphylaxis, act fast. Signs and symptoms of shock caused by anaphylaxis include pale, cool and clammy skin, weak and rapid pulse, trouble breathing, confusion, and loss of consciousness. Even if you're not sure symptoms are caused by anaphylaxis, take the following steps immediately:
- Call 911 or emergency medical help.
- Get the person in a comfortable position and elevate his or her legs.
- Check the person's pulse and breathing and, if necessary, administer CPR or other first-aid measures.
- Give medications to treat an allergy attack, such as an epinephrine autoinjector or antihistamines, if the person has them.
Using an autoinjector
Many people at risk of anaphylaxis carry an autoinjector. This device is a combined syringe and concealed needle that injects a single dose of medication when pressed against your thigh. Always be sure to replace epinephrine before its expiration date, or it may not work properly.
Be sure you know how to use the autoinjector. Also, make sure the people closest to you know how to administer the drug — if they're with you during an anaphylactic emergency, one of them could save your life. Medical personnel called in to respond to a severe anaphylactic reaction also may give you an epinephrine injection or another medication to treat your symptoms.
If your anaphylactic reaction is triggered by insect stings, you may be able to get a series of allergy shots (immunotherapy) to reduce your body's allergic response and prevent a severe reaction in the future.
Unfortunately, in most other cases there's no way to treat the underlying immune system condition that can lead to anaphylaxis. But you can take steps to prevent a future attack — and be prepared in the event one does occur.
- Avoid your known allergy triggers as much as you can.
- You may need to carry self-administered epinephrine. During an anaphylactic attack, you can give yourself the drug using an autoinjector (EpiPen, EpiPen Jr or Twinject).
- Your doctor may recommend taking prednisone or antihistamines.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed Oct. 1, 2012.
- Kim H, et al. Anaphylaxis. Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology. 2011;7(suppl):S6.
- Allergic reactions: Tips to remember. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/allergic-reactions.aspx. Accessed Oct. 1, 2012.
- Bope ET, et al. Conn's Current Therapy. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4377-0986-5..C2009-0-38984-9--TOP&isbn=978-1-4377-0986-5&about=true&uniqId=236797353-5. Accessed Oct. 1, 2012.
- Ferri FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2013: 5 Books in 1. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2012. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-08373-7..00002-9&isbn=978-0-323-08373-7&about=true&uniqId=343863096-23. Accessed Oct. 1, 2012.
- Anaphylaxis overview. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. http://www.acaai.org/allergist/allergies/Anaphylaxis/Pages/default.aspx. Accessed Oct. 1, 2012.
- Barg W, et al. Exercise-induced anaphylaxis: Update on diagnosis and treatment. Current Allergy and Asthma Reports. 2011;11:45.
- Dinakar C. Anaphylaxis in children: Current understanding and key issues in diagnosis and treatment. Current Allergy and Asthma Reports. In press. Accessed Oct. 2, 2012.
- Anaphylaxis: Tips to remember. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/anaphylaxis.aspx. Accessed Oct. 1, 2012.
- Li JT (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 12, 2012.