What can cause anaphylaxis?

There are a few triggers that may start an episode of anaphylaxis. Some of the most common triggers include:

  • Insect stings, especially bee and wasp venom
  • Foods, such as shellfish, seafood, dairy, eggs, soya products, peanuts, and tree nuts
  • Penicillin and related drugs
  • Various anaesthetic agents that are given directly into the blood, such as propofol and suxamethonium
  • Latex
  • Hair dyes
  • Creams

In general, children food products are more significant in children, and drugs are usually more significant in the elderly.

In addition, there are a number of triggers that cause problems similar to those in anaphylaxis, but certain chemical reactions which are needed to classify the problems as allergic (anaphylaxis is a severe type of allergy) do not happen. In these cases, an antibody known as IgE does not trigger cells known as mast cells to release histamine. However, the mast cells still release chemicals and cause symptoms. More information about the science behind allergies can be found in a separate article: “Introduction to allergies.”

Triggers for this non-IgE, anaphylactoid reaction can include:

  • Drugs, such as opiates (a type of painkiller) and aspirin, and some of the dyes and contrasts used when taking scans such as X-rays of various parts of the body.
  • Exercise
  • Cold temperatures
  • No particular cause can be found in 30% of people

Although these two reactions have different underlying mechanisms, they have exactly the same signs and symptoms and are immediately treated in the same way. However, it may cause problems when trying to find a specific trigger and methods of avoiding the trigger.

Doctors will ask you questions about your episode of anaphylaxis to try to ascertain what the trigger was. If it is not possible to find out, or if it is found out that you cannot avoid the trigger, then it is likely that you will have subsequent episodes of anaphylaxis, and should be given equipment such as an EpiPen with instructions for its use.

Anaphylaxis Guide Index:

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