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How to help someone suffering with Anaphylaxis

Last week, I ran a course for Year 1 to Year 8 students at a school in Surrey. They took part in up to three sessions (depending on their age) and in the older groups there were a lot of different questions about various first aid situations including anaphylaxis. Whilst most of the children had heard of an EpiPen, most weren’t really sure why it was used or how it was used. On my regular adult courses I have found the same, so this month I wanted to recap on what anaphylaxis is, what courses it and how to help someone suffering with it.  

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe and life-threatening reaction to something which can often develop very rapidly. It is also sometimes called anaphylactic shock. You can have an allergic reaction without having anaphylaxis if you are having allergic symptoms but not reacting in a severe way.

What causes it?

You can be allergic to many things. You can be allergic to foods such as nuts, eggs, shellfish. You can be allergic to medicines such as penicillin or antibiotics, allergic to venom or stings (snakes or wasps etc.) or to latex. However, as many as one in four people don’t know what they are actually allergic to and what is causing their symptoms.

What does someone suffering from anaphylaxis look like?

Usually someone who is suffering from anaphylaxis will show their symptoms immediately (within minutes) of whatever they have reacted to. They can have any or all of the below symptoms:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling of their tongue or mouth
  • Wheezy breathing and/or stridor (loud high pitched breathing sound)
  • A tight chest
  • A change in heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • An abnormal heart rhythm
  • Itchy skin or eyes
  • Hives or welts on their body
  • General swelling across their body
  • Feelings of anxiousness

What do you do if you see someone suffering from anaphylaxis?

  • If they are breathing and unresponsive put them in the recovery position
  • If they stop breathing start CPR
  • Call 999 immediately and tell them you are with someone suffering from anaphylaxis
  • If they are struggling to breath help them to sit upright to get more air into their lungs
  • If they have low blood pressure / feeling faint help them to lie on the floor with their legs raised.
  • If they have an autoinjector (such as an EpiPen, Emerade or Jext) help them to administer it or administer it for them:
    • Remove the sheath and take the lid off the top of the autoinjector
    • Hold the device with you hand wrapped around it (not finger over the top in case you are holding it upside down!) and follow the instructions on the injector – usually jab autoinjector firmly into outer thigh and hold for 10 seconds.
    • You can jab the autoinjector through clothes and it will work

Important things to know

  • An autoinjector does not ‘solve’ the problem it buys the person suffering anaphylaxis time. Therefore, it is really important you stay with them and call 999 and make sure they get medical attention.
  • Most people who know they suffer from anaphylaxis carry two or more autoinjectors with them. After you use the first one you may need to use the second one as well if the symptoms return. (usually between 5 – 15 minutes later).

Want to know more?

Why not come and join one of my first aid courses or organise your own private course for your team or company? I run a variety of first aid courses https://anderssonfirstaidtraining.co.uk/first-aid-training/ and would love to chat options with you.

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