What is anaphylaxis and what to do

Call 999 for an ambulance - act quickly as anaphylaxis is a medical emergency.

Anaphylaxis is an extreme form of allergic reaction. It can cause swelling of the lips and tongue, breathing problems, collapse and loss of consciousness. Anaphylaxis can cause death and is therefore a medical emergency. If you suspect someone is suffering anaphylaxis, you should call 999 for an ambulance. One of the main treatments is an injection of adrenaline (epinephrine). Some people who have had a severe allergic reaction or anaphylactic reaction in the past carry an adrenaline (epinephrine) pen. This can be self-injected or injected by a bystander, in the event of anaphylaxis.

What should I do if I think someone is having an anaphylactic reaction?

Anaphylaxis is likely when:

  • There is a sudden onset of symptoms.
  • Symptoms get rapidly much worse.
  • There are life-threatening airway and/or breathing problems and/or circulation problems.
  • There are skin changes such as swelling of the lips and tongue (angio-oedema), hives (urticaria) and flushing.

The person may have had a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis in the past. However, this may be the first time.

A person having difficulty breathing may prefer to sit up in a chair. It is best, for a person feeling faint, to lie down.

  • Look to see if the person is wearing a medical emergency bracelet or necklace. Are they carrying an adrenaline (epinephrine) pen? These are also called adrenaline (epinephrine) auto-injectors. Brands include EpiPen®, Emerade® and Jext®. If they are, you could save their life by administering it. Techniques for injection vary slightly, according to the device prescribed (see below). Each device is designed to be used only once - you cannot repeat the procedure with a used auto-injector.