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The symptoms of anaphylactic shock: How to spot a severe allergic reaction

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Anaphylaxis - also known as anaphylactic shock - is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to a trigger such as an allergy.

Anaphylaxis usually develops suddenly and gets worse very quickly. Cases are medical emergencies. It can be very serious if not treated quickly.

Related: Eyebrow wax ‘nearly kills’ teenager after causing extreme allergic reaction

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

:: Feeling lightheaded or faint

:: Breathing difficulties – such as fast, shallow breathing

:: Wheezing

:: A fast heartbeat

:: Clammy skin

:: Confusion and anxiety

:: Collapsing or losing consciousness

There may also be other allergy symptoms, including an itchy, raised rash (hives), feeling or being sick, swelling (angioedema), or stomach pain.

Related: How to treat anaphylactic shock: What to do if someone has a severe allergic reaction

Triggers of anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is the result of the immune system – the body's natural defence system – overreacting to a trigger.

This is often something you're allergic to, but isn't always.

Common anaphylaxis triggers include:

:: Foods – including nuts, milk, fish, shellfish, eggs and some fruits

:: Medicines – including some antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin

:: Insect stings – particularly wasp and bee stings

:: General anaesthetic

:: Contrast agents – special dyes used in some medical tests to help certain areas of your body show up better on scans

:: Latex – a type of rubber found in some rubber gloves and condoms

In some cases, there's no obvious trigger. This is known as idiopathic anaphylaxis.

Preventing anaphylaxis

If you have a serious allergy or have experienced anaphylaxis before, it's important to try to prevent future episodes.

The following can help reduce your risk:

: Identify any triggers – you may be referred to an allergy clinic for allergy tests to check for anything that could trigger anaphylaxis

:: Avoid triggers whenever possible – for example, you should be careful when food shopping or eating out if you have a food allergy

:: Carry your adrenaline auto-injector at all times (if you have two, carry them both) – give yourself an injection whenever you think you may be experiencing anaphylaxis, even if you're not completely sure

How to treat anaphylactic shock: What to do if someone has a severe allergic reaction