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When the body develops an allergic reaction to some outside chemical or substance, it can activate its immune system to combat that substance. On occasion, there can be an excess response and multiple organ systems in the body can be affected and fail. This is known as anaphylaxis. Mast cells and basophils (a type of white blood cell) that contain histamine become unstable and leak their contents to affect the muscles of the lung, heart and blood vessels. These are smooth muscles that are part of the regulatory system of the body and are not under conscious control.
The combination of these effects decrease blood flow and oxygen supply to cells in the body and can result in shock.
These allergens can cause the immune system to turn on the potential cascade to shock. Many patients have allergic reactions that are less severe and can just involve hives, but others can develop shortness of breath, wheezing, swelling of the tongue and mouth, and difficulty swallowing.
Initial treatment for major allergic reactions include calling 911 and activating the emergency response system. Medical interventions include injections of antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), corticosteroids and adrenaline (epinephrine).
Patients with major allergic reactions must try to avoid the chemical trigger. They also often carry an Epipen (epinephrine injection kit) to inject themselves with epinephrine should an allergic reaction occur.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/8/2014
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