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What is Anaphylaxis? Our Guide on How to Treat It

Did you know that anaphylaxis affects around 1 in 50 adults in Australia? Being aware of the signs and symptoms of someone experiencing an anaphylactic reaction can literally be the difference between life and death.

With hospital presentations for anaphylaxis increasing across all age groups in Australia over the last 30 years, now is a great opportunity to understand what anaphylaxis is.

Keep reading to learn all about anaphylaxis and how our first aid courses can equip you with the skills and knowledge to take charge and save a life…

What is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a generalised allergic reaction which often involves more than one body system. The body systems that are typically involved include respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and integumentary.

Typically, a severe anaphylactic reaction usually takes place within 20 minutes of exposure to the trigger. In some cases, it could be up to 2 hours.

Anaphylaxis is potentially life threatening and should always be treated as a medical emergency. You may remember us discussing this in a previous blog

What are Common Triggers?

The main triggers of anaphylaxis are broad, however the most obvious include:

    • Food allergies – milk, peanuts, eggs, sesame, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy.

    • Bites and insect stings – bees, wasps, fire ants and jack jumpers.

    • Medication – penicillin, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin.

    • Latex

    • Radiocontrast agents – commonly used for x-rays

Signs & Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

Early recognition of anaphylaxis is crucial. The physical manifestations can vary, so being aware of what to look out for is important. Signs and symptoms are potentially life threatening and can include any of the following:

    • Difficult or noisy breathing

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

    • Constrictive or a ‘tight’ feeling in throat

    • Difficulty talking or hoarse voice

    • A wheeze or persistent cough

    • Persistent dizziness or collapse

    • Hives, welts and redness

    • Abdominal pain and/or vomiting.

    • Pale and floppy (more common in young children)

Treatment for Anaphylaxis

So far you are aware of what anaphylaxis is, what the main triggers are and key signs and symptoms to look out for. But how do we treat anaphylaxis? The answer… Adrenaline!

Adrenaline (or by its medical term ‘Epinephrine’) is a hormone and neurotransmitter which is naturally produced by your body’s adrenal gland. A main function of adrenaline is to regulate organ and immune system function. During anaphylaxis, adrenaline is usually given via an adrenaline auto injector device such as an EpiPen or Anapen. In a hospital setting, it is normally given with a syringe or needle.

Once the adrenaline is administered, it works by reducing throat swelling and dilating airways. It helps regulate heart function and increases blood pressure, so you feel better.

The severity of hives and welts can also be reduced by adrenaline, as blood vessels constrict, sending blood away from the skin.

How to use an EpiPen

The use of an EpiPen should be simple. It has been designed so a layperson with little to no experience in first aid training can successfully administer it to a person in need. Follow the steps below to learn how to administer an EpiPen:

    1. Lay the patient flat on their back. If breathing is difficult, allow to sit upright with legs outstretched.

    1. Form a first around the EpiPen – Remember the saying ‘blue to the sky, orange to the thigh’. The blue safety cap should be facing up and the orange end facing down.

    1. Keep the patient’s leg still and place the orange end of the EpiPen against the outer mid-thigh on a 90-degree angle. Do a quick check to ensure there are no objects such as phones or wallets in the way.

    1. Push down firmly until a click is felt or heard and keep holding down for 3 seconds.

    1. Once this is achieved, safely remove the EpiPen. Once the EpiPen has been administered remember to note down the time it was given and if after 5 minutes there is no response, give another EpiPen if required.

How to use an Anapen

The Anapen is another adrenaline autoinjector device that is used as a first line treatment against anaphylaxis. To use:

    1. Pull off black needle shield.

    1. Pull off grey safety cap from red button.

    1. Place needle end firmly against outer mid-thigh at 90-degree angle (with or without clothing is fine).

    1. Press red button so it clicks and hold for 3 seconds.

    1. Remove Anapen after doing so.

Shown below are step by step guides how to use both an EpiPen and Anapen.

Dosages and Types of EpiPens/Anapens

According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), the injector dose recommendations are as follows:

Children 7.5kg – 20kg (approx. 1 to 5 years old)

  • EpiPen Jr (150 microgram)
  • Anapen 150 (150 microgram)

Children over 20kg and adults

  • EpiPen (300 microgram)
  • Anapen 300 (300 microgram)

Children and adults over 50kg

  • EpiPen (300 microgram)
  • Anapen 500 (500 microgram) or
  • Anapen 300 (300 microgram)

Industry Wide Training’s First Aid course (with CPR) includes anaphylaxis training, and it will teach you how to identify, manage and create an action plan for someone experiencing anaphylaxis. You will also get hands on practical training with an adrenaline auto injector device. Contact us today to book a session!