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Doctor's Diagnosis: Anaphylaxis

Dr. Stephen Picca of Massapequa is Board Certified

Dr. Stephen Picca of Massapequa is Board Certified in both Internal Medicine and Anesthesiology. In this week's "Doctor's Diagnosis," Picca discuses anaphylaxis. Credit: Fotolia

ANAPHYLAXIS

I once had an unfortunate encounter with an unfriendly wasp that required me to be treated in the emergency room for a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Can a single wasp sting really threaten your life? The answer is yes, if you suffer from a severe form of allergy known as anaphylaxis.

Usually, allergies cause watery eyes, runny noses, maybe even an asthma attack. In some patients the allergic reaction is much more severe, with skin rash, narrowing of the airways and dangerously low blood pressure developing in a matter of minutes. If not promptly treated these patients can quickly die. In fact it is estimated that almost 2,000 people a year die in the United States from an anaphylactic reaction.

What type of agents can trigger anaphylaxis? It’s a lengthy list ranging from certain antibiotics (especially penicillin and related drugs) to the latex used in medical gloves to foods such as peanuts to stings from bees and wasps.

Patients who know they develop severe allergic reactions to certain allergens must work very hard to avoid exposure to these agents. An allergist may be able to help desensitize them to known triggering agents. Regardless, in an emergency these patients must be ready to treat themselves.

The most useful drug is epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) which comes in an auto-injection device known as an EpiPen, a prescription medication. When patients feel a reaction developing they uncap the needle and inject themselves in the outer part of the leg, directly through their clothes. Then they should call 911.

After my encounter with the wasp, I was told to carry an EpiPen at all times. Knowing it could save my life made it worthwhile, but it can be rather inconvenient. Recently a new epinephrine auto-injection device was released, known as Auvi-Q, which is smaller and more convenient to carry. Removing the outer case activates an audio voice recording that gives step-by-step instructions to the user.

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If any of you have any experience with this new device, I’d like to hear from you. Contact me at health@newsday.com.


Dr. Stephen Picca of Massapequa is Board Certified in both Internal Medicine and Anesthesiology. He is retired from practice.

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