Dangerous Allergies: Anaphylaxis and Life-Threatening Allergy Triggers

Reviewed on 9/23/2020


Peanuts are one of the most common food allergies.

People with life-threatening allergies have to be cautious around common foods and environmental triggers. Peanuts are one example. Peanut allergy is common among those who have severe food allergies, and it can be deadly for some people. Upon exposure, people may develop symptoms like hives, throat/face swelling, difficulty breathing, dizziness, and a rapid pulse. The symptoms of anaphylaxis, a possible fatal reaction if not treated immediately, are a medical emergency. Call 911 if you or someone you are with is experiencing these symptoms.

Fish and Shellfish

Fish and shellfish are another common trigger for severe allergic reactions.

When thinking about food allergy triggers, fish and shellfish are near the top of the list. People who are allergic to fish and shellfish may experience throat swelling so severe that it makes it hard or impossible to breathe. Even just a small exposure to fish, shrimp, crab or lobster may provoke these reactions. Call 911 if you or someone you are with is experiencing a life-threatening allergic reaction to seafood.

Tree Nuts, Seeds and Soy

A bagel with sesame seeds is a tasty lunch for some, an allergic trigger for others.

Tree nuts, legumes and seeds are common offenders for people who have severe food allergies. Peanuts are one type of legume. Lentils, chickpeas, peas and soy are also in the legume family and may provoke allergic reactions. Tree nuts including cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts and macadamias can also trigger allergic reactions. Seeds like sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds may trigger food allergies. Coconut is another seed that people can be allergic to.

Wheat, Dairy and Eggs

Wheat, dairy and eggs are common food allergies in children.

Allergies to wheat, dairy and eggs are common, especially in children. These allergies may be problematic because these ingredients are often found hidden in other foods. Read food labels carefully to see foods have ingredients you or your family are allergic to.

Insect Stings

Bees and flying insects are annoying, but their stings may also cause severe allergic reactions.

Stinging insects are another common cause of severe allergic reactions and anaphylaxis. This includes stings from bees, hornets, yellow jackets, wasps and fire ants. People who suffer severe anaphylactic reactions to insect stings should see an allergist to get a treatment and action plan in the event of a sting. Allergy shots are available that can help reduce reactivity to offending agents. Reduce the risk of stings by not wearing bright clothes and perfume. These things can attract bugs that can bite and sting you.

Ticks and Ants

Insects that can’t fly, like ticks and ants, may also cause life-threatening allergic reactions.

It's not just insects that fly that you need to watch out for if you suffer from severe allergic reactions. Crawling bugs like ticks and red ants can be dangerous, too. Sometimes they cause mild reactions, but for some, the reactions can be potentially life-threatening. Fire ants are dangerous because they can sting repeatedly, injecting more and more venom each time. Dress appropriately when you're outdoors and hiking by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and closed-toed shoes. Wear insect repellant and check yourself for ticks and other bugs when you're done.


People may be allergic to penicillin, aspirin or other medications.

People take medications because they are supposed to help them, but some medications cause life-threatening reactions in susceptible individuals. Aspirin, penicillin, anesthesia drugs, chemotherapy drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and imaging dye are common offenders. Sometimes a doctor can switch a patient to a different medication that does not provoke a reaction. If the medication is necessary, a patient can undergo desensitization therapy that gradually increases the dose of a medication as the patient tolerates it.

Latex Allergy

Latex gloves may trigger allergic reactions or anaphylaxis in susceptible individuals.

Latex allergies may cause rashes, hives and even life-threatening anaphylaxis. Latex is found in items like condoms and rubber gloves. It is also present in medical equipment like disposable gloves, syringes, IV tubes, catheters, adhesive tapes, dental dams and enema tips. People who have latex allergies may also react to cross-reactive foods like kiwi, apricots, avocados, tomatoes, potatoes and chestnuts.

OTC Analgesics

Pain relievers may trigger allergic reactions in some people.

Just because a medication is available over-the-counter doesn't mean it's safe for everyone. Some people experience allergic reactions from over-the-counter medications like pain relievers. Ibuprofen, other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin are all potential offenders. Do not take these medications if they cause you to have allergic reactions and make sure your doctor notes the information in your chart.

Exercise-Induced Allergy

Simple activities like walking and jogging may trigger anaphylaxis.

Physical activity can trigger allergic reactions and anaphylaxis. Walking, yard work and jogging may trigger episodes. Some people get these attacks with activity along with exposure to an offending food or medication. People who tend to get these reactions may be more prone to get them when the weather is cold, hot, or humid. Consult with an allergist to diagnose and treat the underlying cause.

Anaphylaxis Signs and Symptoms

Call 911 and get medical help right away at the first sign of anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening reaction. If you or someone around you experiences anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately. Anaphylaxis causes hives, swelling, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing and possible loss of consciousness. It also causes itching, flushing, pallor, a swollen tongue and vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. Your pulse may become fast and weak. People who suffer from anaphylaxis may experience dizziness and fainting.

Epinephrine Auto-Injector

An epinephrine auto-injector is used to treat anaphylaxis symptoms.

EpiPens or similar epinephrine auto-injectors are used to treat anaphylaxis symptoms. Make sure your doctor shows you how to use these and have two doses on hand at all times. If you are in doubt whether or not you are experiencing anaphylaxis symptoms, use your auto-injector. Call 911 or have someone call emergency services for you.

Risk Factors

People who have food allergies are at increased risk for anaphylaxis.

People who have certain conditions are at increased risk for anaphylaxis. Having a prior history of anaphylaxis increases the risk of future episodes. So does having asthma or food allergies. Manage your medical conditions by taking medications for asthma and food allergies as prescribed. Check in with your doctor if your symptoms are not managed adequately.

Wear a Medical Bracelet

A medical bracelet gives emergency medical personnel information about your allergies if you have a reaction.

If you have severe allergies or are prone to anaphylaxis, it’s a good idea to wear medical alert jewelry to alert others around you of your condition. The MedicAlert Foundation offers several options including medical bracelets, dog tags, watches, sports bands and other types of identification. The foundation can notify friends and family in the event of an emergency. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Have a Plan

You’ll feel better if you have an allergy action plan to implement if you have symptoms.

If you are prone to severe allergic reactions, create a plan to deal with symptoms. Your allergist can help you devise an emergency treatment plan and provide you with guidance about how to minimize the chance of a reaction. Keep your epinephrine auto-injectors on hand at all times. Make sure those close to you, including family, friends and coworkers, know about your condition and know how to help you if you need assistance.

Dangerous Allergies: Anaphylaxis and Life-Threatening Allergy Triggers

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