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Asthma and Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a life threatening allergic reaction that can affect your skin, mouth, stomach, lungs or heart. Anyone can develop a severe allergic reaction, but people with a history of allergies, asthma or eczema are at greater risk for anaphylaxis than other people.

It is most often caused by exposure to:

  • Foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, milk and eggs.
  • Stinging insects like bees or wasps
  • Latex, from certain balloons and kitchen gloves
  • Medications, including aspirin and certain antibiotics
  • Exercise

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include hives or generalized itching, swelling of the throat or tongue, difficulty breathing, dizziness, severe headache, stomach cramps, nausea or diarrhea. People with asthma may have more severe symptoms including tightened airways and they may not realize that it's anaphylaxis but instead think that it's a severe asthma attack.

The best way to avoid anaphylaxis is to talk to your doctor. If you have ever had symptoms such as hives or a swollen throat after exposure to foods, stinging insects, latex, or medication, write down your symptoms and what you were doing before and during your reaction. Your doctor will evaluate you further and if needed, prescribe an "auto-injectable epinephrine."

Key Points to Remember:

  • Early food allergy symptoms can be mistaken for asthma symptoms.
  • If you have a food allergy and asthma and have sudden onset of severe asthma symptoms after eating, then assume that you ingested your food allergen and immediately use your epinephrine, and get to an ER quickly.
  • Inhalers won't stop anaphylaxis, but epinephrine will stop either an asthma attack or anaphylaxis.