Anaphylactic Shock – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Anaphylactic shock (allergic shock)

Anaphylactic shock , or allergic shock , is a condition that is life-threatening and urgently requires prompt recognition and treatment.

What is Anaphylactic Shock?

Anaphylactic shock is one of the most severe health impairments in connection with various allergic reactions that can occur due to various causes. Since anaphylactic shock has the symptoms of a severe allergy, the terms allergic shock or allergic shock are also appropriate.

Anaphylactic shock shows the typical signs of a classic state of shock, which usually occurs acutely and very quickly after the trigger has taken effect. If undetected and untreated, anaphylactic shock can lead to a loss of function of the entire cardiovascular system. This condition is considered life-threatening in anaphylactic shock.

The diagnosis of anaphylactic shock can be made relatively quickly with a high degree of certainty. This is possible because very characteristic health impairments occur.


The causes that lead to the development of an anaphylactic shock are mostly external triggers that are also characteristic of normal allergies . In addition to wasp or bee stings ( insect venom allergy ), anaphylactic shock also occurs when there is an intolerance to substances in medication.

This is often seen with penicillin . In addition, administration of different contrast media for X-ray diagnostic procedures via the injection route also leads to anaphylactic shock. Allergy sufferers usually react extremely hypersensitively to various components in food. These can come from fruit or nuts. (see food allergy (food allergy) )

In addition, allergens from animals such as animal hair or mite faeces (see house dust allergy ) are considered to be the causal triggers of anaphylactic shock. In most cases, anaphylactic shock builds up in those patients who have already been diagnosed with type 1 allergy.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Depending on the severity, anaphylactic shock manifests itself through a number of symptoms. A grade one allergic shock is accompanied by mild general reactions such as dizziness , headaches and nausea. Skin reactions such as itching, hives and redness can also occur.

Severity two causes similar symptoms, but there are additional signs such as an accelerated heartbeat, drop in blood pressure and slight shortness of breath. The nausea develops into serious gastrointestinal problems – vomiting, diarrhea and other side effects occur. Third-degree anaphylactic shock is characterized by spasms of the airway muscles and a shock reaction.

In isolated cases, swelling of the larynx with shortness of breath occurs. Severity IV leads to respiratory and cardiovascular arrest. The affected person usually becomes unconscious or suffers severe cramps, which clearly indicate a severe course. Depending on the type and severity of the allergy, other symptoms and symptoms may appear.

A pollen allergy is usually associated with respiratory problems and a cold , while a food allergy can manifest itself as serious gastrointestinal problems and fever. Anaphylactic shock can be recognized as occurring shortly after exposure to an allergen and producing multiple symptoms within minutes.


The course of anaphylactic shock is characterized by an acute form, which is reflected in the fact that the symptoms appear in two stages. In anaphylactic shock, these are referred to as the so-called initial phase and as the systemic reaction. In the initial phase, those affected initially suffer from discomfort , nausea and mild diarrhea as well as pain in the intestinal area .

Localized changes in the skin occur during anaphylactic shock and breathing difficulties occur . In anaphylactic shock, these are similar to a mild asthma attack . In the further course of the anaphylactic shock, increasing itching , severe redness of the skin on the face, inflammatory processes on the skin with intense redness and hives can be observed. Due to the constriction of the airways due to their swelling, anaphylactic shock continues to lead to increased shortness of breath .

Those affected usually vomit and show a significant reduction in blood pressure. If left untreated, the pulse ( low pulse ) quickly flattens out, the patient loses consciousness and cardiac and circulatory activity comes to a standstill.

The latter symptoms are characteristic of a typical state of shock and, in the case of anaphylactic shock, are due to the fact that the blood vessels dilate enormously.


Anaphylactic shock (allergic shock) initially causes a sharp drop in blood pressure and an increase in heart rate. Due to the drop in blood pressure, important organs are no longer supplied with sufficient blood, which can subsequently fail, including the kidneys and lungs in particular.

In harmless cases of anaphylaxis, there is only reddening of the skin and mild itching. However, these symptoms quickly subside when the offending allergen is avoided and heal without complications. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can also occur. If an allergy agent is used, these harmless symptoms quickly subside without consequences.

In the more severe cases, there is also severe swelling of the muscles in the area of ​​the throat and bronchi, which leads to difficulty swallowing and difficult breathing, which can lead to shortness of breath and even suffocation. In the context of Quincke’s edema, in which the deeper layers of skin also swell, the symptoms are even worse. In Quincke’s edema, in addition to the neck and face, the hands, feet and genitals are usually painfully swollen.

During an anaphylactic shock, the affected person may lose consciousness and may also stop breathing . For this reason, an emergency doctor should be called in immediately, as this can lead to cardiac arrest and death of the patient if left untreated.

When should you go to the doctor?

Anaphylactic shock often affects allergy sufferers. It is potentially fatal and is therefore an extreme emergency. An emergency doctor or an ambulance must be alerted immediately. However, an allergic shock can have different degrees of severity – but it is never to be trifled with.

It may be known that it is an allergy sufferer. Allergy sufferers often inform their fellow human beings that they are allergic to certain things. In this case, there is often a four-piece emergency kit in the house. If the person can still be contacted, those present can ask them where they are kept. Otherwise, calling an ambulance is the first step. A paramedic or emergency doctor may be on site at public events. Alerting them too would be a suitable measure. It is important to act quickly. Anaphylactic shock should be suspected.

The first aid measures for an anaphylactic shock are to be carried out depending on the condition of the person concerned. In case of shortness of breath, breathing should be made easier. In the event of unconsciousness, the patient must be in a stable lateral position. Circulatory problems require you to put your legs up. If necessary, resuscitation measures such as cardiac massage and artificial respiration should be initiated. The doctor consulted will decide on further measures after his arrival. With timely administration of antihistamine, cortisone and/or histamine, the allergy sufferer usually gets back on his feet.

Treatment & Therapy

Therapy for anaphylactic shock depends on the severity of the individual symptoms and the patient’s condition. In addition to rapid emergency medical treatment, follow-up treatment is also required for anaphylactic shock.

In addition to the practiced first aid measures that are used in the event of a shock, the doctors also use special medication for anaphylactic shock. These should stop the allergic reaction and stabilize the cardiovascular system again. In addition to adrenaline and glucocorticoids, the drugs used also include so-called antihistamines and beta-2 sympathomimetics.

The latter group of drugs affects the conduction of impulses in the heart and, like all other substances in anaphylactic shock, is introduced into the organism through an infusion. The other drugs prevent the narrowing of the airways and clear the bronchi again.

Outlook & Forecast

As a rule, the further course of this complaint depends heavily on the cause of the shock, so that a general prediction is not possible in most cases. However, this condition is a life-threatening condition that must be treated by a doctor in any case.

Those affected usually suffer from circulatory problems and also from circulatory shock . There is also vomiting and nausea. Patients also show shortness of breath and also suffer from tachycardia, which can lead to loss of consciousness. This shock often leads to anxiety and a panic attack. Redness and itching also occur on the skin or directly at the puncture site and can further reduce the quality of life. In the worst case, the affected person suffers a complete cardiac arrest and dies.

As a rule, anaphylactic shock can be treated relatively well with the help of medication and first aid measures. There are no special complaints or complications. If the treatment is successful and quick, the life expectancy of the patient is not affected.


In order to counteract an anaphylactic shock prophylactically, it makes sense to pay attention to the known triggering causes and to avoid them. However, if these nevertheless get into the organism, an emergency kit or a special emergency preparation can be helpful to prevent the development of an anaphylactic shock. This can be represented either by a drug containing glucocorticoids or an antihistamine in anaphylactic shock.


In the case of anaphylactic shock, follow-up care consists of further monitoring of the person concerned and taking preventive measures. When someone is taken to a hospital with anaphylactic shock, first aid is provided. The patient is then monitored by a doctor for a certain period of time – for example to rule out organ damage or to check the circulatory functions.

If necessary, further medical measures are then taken. These range from administering drugs to replacing organ functions with machines, depending on the severity of the anaphylactic shock. The monitoring time in the intensive care unit is usually at least 24 hours.

If it is the first allergic shock without a known allergen, an attempt is usually made to find the allergen. An anaphylaxis pass can then be issued. In addition, those affected are advised to urgently contact a doctor who will provide further preventive measures regarding the possible allergy.

There is no medical aftercare in the narrower sense in the case of an allergic shock. Rather, prophylactic measures (such as avoiding the allergen) must be taken. In addition, after the first anaphylactic shock at the latest, the person concerned should carry an emergency kit with them so that they can take (or have) measures taken quickly in the event of another shock.

You can do that yourself

Since vital organs are affected in an anaphylactic shock, a doctor should be consulted immediately. When allergic shock occurs, a serious form of allergic reaction, it is important to stay calm and practice first aid .

Since anaphylactic shock is associated with circulatory problems, these should be minimized by elevating your legs. This can stimulate blood flow to the brain. It is also advisable to lie in the stable side position , as this keeps the airways open. In addition to keeping calm and avoiding panic actions, it is important to recognize the triggering allergen. If the allergen is known, further intake should be stopped immediately.

If the allergic reaction has occurred due to an insect bite , the insect’s stinger can be removed by careful scratching so that further toxins can no longer enter the human circulatory system. Anyone who has antiallergic medication in their immediate vicinity should take it immediately.

If those affected know about the triggering allergen in advance and suspect an allergic shock reaction, they should always carry the antiallergic medication with them if possible. In this way, those affected are well prepared for an emergency, can gain a little security and minimize their fears of a dangerous shock reaction.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.