Dr. Aaron's Blog

Anaphylaxis — not just a weird word — its serious!

February 23, 2015 Allergy, Inflammation, Naturopathic Medicine by Aaron Van Gaver

Anaphylaxis is an acute allergic response that can have a serious outcome. While it
affects the entire body, it is generally associated with severe swelling of the face and
tongue as well as the inability to breathe.  For anyone who has experienced an
anaphylactic reaction it can be a scary experience.  

Anaphylaxis is an acute reaction to an allergen and is different from allergic
responses that occur hours to days after exposure to an allergen.  It does not usually
occur after a first exposure, instead the body gets primed and will initiate an
anaphylactic reaction to subsequent exposures.

From a naturopathic perspective these types of allergies are very hard to treat, and
are often managed with diet and preventative measures.  Allergies that cause
anaphylaxis are considered “true” allergies and should not be confused with IgG
sensitivities mediated by a leaky gut syndrome.

The Cause of Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis results from exposures to an allergen. Common triggers include
peanuts, dairy products, shellfish, bee stings, and pollen.
When the body is initially exposed to pollen, no response is initiated, but the
immune system gets busy making antibodies against the antigen (pollen).  With the
next exposure the body is now primed to respond in a stronger way. The pollen
binds a receptor on a cell that triggers a cascade of cellular events that lead to the
release of inflammatory mediators, such as histamine, that cause a myriad of
symptoms – anaphylaxis.

How the Body Responds

At the cellular level the release of histamine and other inflammatory mediators in
response to the exposure causes blood vessels to dilate which causes a decrease in
blood pressure as well as the bronchioles to constrict, which causes the impaired

The systemic release of these mediators causes additional symptoms.  Nearly every
system is involved – circulatory, respiratory, skin (integumentary), digestive, and
the central nervous system.   Which symptoms present can differs between people,
however common symptoms include hives, skin discoloration, abdominal pain,
feeling sick to the stomach, facial swelling, metal mouth, heart palpitations, metal
taste in the mouth, and mental confusion.

Without proper treatment, the severe drop in blood pressure and respiratory
distress can cause the body to go into shock as the major organs fail to receive the
nutrients they require.


Adrenaline is first-line treatment for anaphylaxis. It is administered to combat the
severe drop in blood pressure increasing blood flow and help restore normal
respiratory function.  Usually the response is too severe for an anti-histamine to
have any benefit.  Patients who are aware they have an anaphylactic allergy will
carry an Epi-pen, which is an autoinjector prefilled with adrenaline (aka
epinephrine) that can be used outside of a hospital.  While this treatment is
necessary, the amount of adrenaline used can have negative effects, so patients are
strongly encouraged to see a physician after administration.

If you are interested in finding out what an anaphylactic reaction can do in your body – check out this interactive tool http://www.healthline.com/health/anaphylaxis/effects-on-body