CPR First Aid

Signs and Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening medical emergency that can occur when someone has an allergic reaction. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can vary from mild to severe and can affect different parts of the body. It’s critical to seek medical attention right away if you develop any of the following symptoms or signs: trouble breathing, throat swelling, hives or rash, lightheadedness or vertigo, vomiting, or diarrhoea. In this blog post, we will discuss the Signs and Symptoms of Anaphylaxis in more detail.

What is an Allergy?

An allergy is when a person’s immune system reacts to triggers (allergens) that the person is hypersensitive to and is usually harmless to most other people. Symptoms of an allergy can range from mild to potentially life-threatening (severe). It occurs when the body mistakes something as harmful and creates a defence system (antibodies) to fight it.

The ways allergens can enter the body:

  • Ingested (most common, in the mouth)
  • Inhaled (breathed in)
  • Injected (bees, wasps, ants or medication)
  • Absorbed (through touching the skin)
  • Allergy symptoms develop when the antibodies
    are battling the “invading” allergen
    Allergy: immune reacts to triggers, harmless to most. Mild-severe symptoms; body defends.

What is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe and sometimes sudden allergic reaction. It can occur when a susceptible person is exposed to an allergen (such as food or an insect sting). Reactions usually begin within minutes of exposure and can progress rapidly over a period of up to two hours or more.

Anaphylaxis is potentially life-threatening and always requires an emergency response.

Anaphylaxis: severe allergic reaction, sudden. Triggered by allergen exposure. Starts within minutes, escalates rapidly. Life-threatening, demands urgent action.

Common Causes of Anaphylaxis:

  • Food allergies, such as peanuts, tree nuts, fish, lactose, eggs, wheat, seafood, fish, soy
  • Insect stings, such as bees, wasps or even ants
  • Tick bites
  • Some materials, such as latex
  • Medications, both over the counter and prescribed, can cause
    life-threatening allergic reactions, e.g. aspirin, antibiotics such as penicillin
  • Some herbal remedies can also induce reactions
  • Exercise

Signs and Symptoms (Allergy):

  • Initial signs (these can be used as warning signs to get help)
  • May begin with itchy hands, mouth or feet
  • Eyes may become red, watery and puffy
  • Tingly around the mouth
  • Swollen lips and face
  • Rash or hives can develop, especially on the chest,
    armpits and groin (hives are white itchy bumps which
    look and feel like insect bites)
  • Stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea

Soon after hives develop, more serious symptoms of Anaphylaxis may occur, including:

  • Shock
  • 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)

Management of an Allergic Reaction (Mild to Moderate):

  • Follow DRS ABCD as required
  • For insect allergy, flick out the sting if visible. In the case of a tick bite, if there is no history of tick allergy, immediately remove the tick
  • If the casualty has a history of tick allergy, the tick must be killed where it is, rather than removed.
  • Apply a cold compress to the bite/sting site
  • Stay with casualty and reassure
  • Call for help. Get someone to contact 000 
  • If prescribed, give other medications as noted on Personal Action Plan for Allergic Reactions
  • Continue to monitor the casualty for signs of anaphylaxis
  • Contact parent/guardian or other emergency contacts

Management of Anaphylaxis (Severe Allergic Reaction):

  • Follow DRS ABCD
  • Lay the casualty flat. If having difficulty breathing, sit them upright and try to calm them
  • If known and possible, remove the source of the allergy
  • Bring the EpiPen to the casualty. Use the autoinjector (EpiPen) to inject adrenaline.
    Specific training is required (Note that EpiPens have been designed for use by
    anyone in an emergency as instructions are shown on the label)
  • Call 000 for an ambulance
  • 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 has been
    administered before commencing CPR.
  • Contact parent/guardian or other emergency contacts
  • 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 adrenaline autoinjector FIRST, then asthma reliever

What is an EpiPen?

  • An EpiPen is a small, hand-held, automatic injection device.
  • It contains adrenaline and is injected into the fleshy part of the casualty’s thigh when experiencing an anaphylactic reaction.
  • EpiPens are prescribed to people with known allergies and they may be able to inject themselves or may need assistance from the first aider
  • Note: Single use only
    EpiPen: small, hand-held, auto-injector device.

Anaphylaxis Management Plan

Ensure that all patients prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector has an anaphylaxis management plan that includes:

  • Referral to an appropriate specialist
  • Identification of the relevant allergen(s)
  • Education on avoiding allergen(s)
  • An anaphylaxis action plan (see image)
  • Appropriate follow-up and review
  • Train patients to recognise the symptoms of
    anaphylaxis and how to use their adrenaline auto-injector correctly

Where to Learn First Aid in Brisbane?

You can administer First Aid to someone who is experiencing a severe allergic reaction. 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.


If you think that you or someone you know may be experiencing anaphylaxis, it is important to seek medical help immediately. Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening condition and should be treated as a medical emergency. If you have been

If you have been diagnosed with an allergy that could cause anaphylaxis, it is important to carry an EpiPen with you at all times. An EpiPen is a device that injects a dose of epinephrine, which can help to stop the allergic reaction and provide relief from symptoms. If you are having an allergic reaction and you have an EpiPen, it is important to use it right away.

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