When someone is exposed to an allergen, they may experience an allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal. It is crucial to perform First Aid if a casualty experience Anaphylaxic Shock. In this blog post, we’ll go over how to treat anaphylactic shock with First Aid.
What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and can cause death. It must be treated as a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment and urgent medical attention.
Anaphylaxis often involves more than one body system, e.g. skin (rash), respiratory (breathing), gastro-intestinal (stomach), and cardiovascular (heart and blood pressure).
The most dangerous allergic reactions affect breathing and/or the heart and blood pressure. The signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis could happen straight away or can take up to the first 20 minutes after exposure.
Note: Mild/moderate signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction do not always precede anaphylaxis
Symptoms: Severe Allergic Reaction
- Altered mental status
- Difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath and gasping
- The casualty may become very anxious and have a great sense of fear
- Respiratory or cardiac arrest and unconsciousness
- Difficulty and/or noisy breathing
- Swelling of the tongue
- Swelling or tightness in the throat
- Difficulty talking or hoarse voice
- Wheeze or persistent cough
- Loss of consciousness and/or collapse
- Pale and floppy (young children)
- Abdominal pain or vomiting if insect allergy
Common Allergens (Triggers) of Anaphylaxis Food
There are nine (9) food groups that account for approximately 90% of allergic reactions. Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish, crustaceans, wheat, and soy are the most common food triggers.
However, any food can trigger anaphylaxis. It is important to understand that even a trace (small amount) of food can cause a life-threatening reaction. Some extremely sensitive individuals can react to even the smell of food (e.g. fish, peanut butter).
Foods are the most common trigger in children and young adults while medications and insect bites and stings are more common in older adults.
Medications, both over the counter and prescribed, can cause life-threatening allergic reactions, e.g. aspirin, and antibiotics such as penicillin.
Individuals can also have anaphylactic reactions to herbal or ‘alternative’ medicines.
Other triggers such as cold, latex (gloves and balloons) or exercise (with or without food) induced anaphylaxis are less common.
Occasionally the trigger cannot be identified despite extensive investigation.
First Aid for Anaphylaxis
DRS ABCD – Basic Life Support flow chart
The Australian Resuscitation Council (ARC) recommends using the following 7-step acronym when caring for a casualty–DRS ABCD
Check for danger (hazards/risks/safety) Check for response (if unresponsive) Send for help (Call 000)
Open the airway
Check to breathe (if not breathing / abnormal breathing)
Start CPR (give 30 chest compressions followed by two breaths) Attach an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) as soon as available and follow the prompts
First Aid Management of Anaphylaxis: Explained
- Follow DRS ABCD – Check for danger
- Appropriately position the person having anaphylaxis
- If known and possible, remove the source of the allergy
- Use the autoinjector (EpiPen/Anapen) to inject adrenaline. (Note that the devices have
been designed for use by anyone in an emergency as instructions are shown on the label)
- Call 000 / 112 for an ambulance
- Stay calm and continually monitor the casualty’s airways, breathing and respiration, as
a sudden change may occur which may need CPR at any time. Ensure that the
EpiPen/Anapen has been administered before commencing CPR
- Contact parent/guardian or another emergency contact
- If available, further adrenaline doses may be given if there is no response after 5 minutes
- If uncertain whether it is asthma or anaphylaxis, give an adrenaline autoinjector FIRST, then an asthma reliever
Note: If adrenaline is accidentally injected (e.g., into a thumb) phone your local poisons information centre. Continue to follow the plan for the person with the allergic reaction
How to position a person having anaphylaxis? – Pt 1
The ASCIA Action Plans for Anaphylaxis include the following infographics that show the correct and incorrect positioning of a person having a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
Note: Layperson flat – do NOT allow them to stand or walk
- If unconscious or pregnant, place in the recovery position – on the left side if pregnant, as shown below
- If breathing is difficult allow them to sit with legs outstretched
- Hold young children flat, not upright If unconscious, place them in the recovery position
- The person should NOT stand, walk, or be held upright, even if they appear to have recovered.
How to position a person having anaphylaxis? – Pt 2
When a person has anaphylaxis their blood pressure can drop rapidly, which reduces blood flow to the heart. Laying the person flat will help blood flow to the heart which improves blood pressure, whilst standing can make anaphylaxis worse by causing blood pressure to drop.
Note: If the casualty walks, stands or sits up suddenly, they can die within minutes.
The person having anaphylaxis should not be allowed to stand, sit up suddenly or walk, even if they look like they have recovered. They should be carried on a stretcher or trolley bed to the ambulance
Where to Learn First Aid in Brisbane?
You can administer First Aid to someone who is not breathing. If you are interested in enrolling in a first aid course in Brisbane, contact CPR First Aid for more information.
RTO No. 21903: CPR First Aid was founded in 2007. We specialise in providing first aid training in CPR, asthma and anaphylaxis for a range of workplaces including childcare, schools and other industries in NSW, VIC, SA, WA and QLD. We are a Registered Training Organisation with the Australian Skills Quality Authority (No 21903). Our courses and Units are VET-accredited for workplaces in Australia.
A severe allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock can be fatal. It is crucial to perform First Aid on a casualty experiencing an anaphylaxic shock. You can save a life by learning how to perform First Aid in case of an emergency. Be prepared. You may consider enrolling with us.