Dangerous Anaphylaxis Waiting Game

2 in 5 Wait to Seek Medical Help During a Potentially Life-Threatening Allergic Response

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 09, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 9, 2009 - More than 40% of people suffering a potentially life-threatening episode of anaphylaxis wait before seeking medical attention, according to a new study.

Researchers say it's a dangerous waiting game, and more education is needed to urge people with severe allergies to seek first aid and immediate medical help during anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic response that affects the whole body. It causes swelling that can lead to a blocked airway, hives, lowered blood pressure, fast heart rate, and wheezing. It is considered a medical emergency because if not immediately treated, a person can go into shock and die.

Anaphylaxis Symptoms Misunderstood

In the study, presented this week at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Annual Meeting in Miami, researchers surveyed 58 people who were treated in an emergency department for anaphylaxis.

Overall, the average time between the start of anaphylaxis symptoms and seeking medical attention was 20 minutes, but 43% reported a significant delay in seeking medical attention. Of those who reported a delay, most said the delay was because they thought their symptoms would subside.

About half used medications to treat their anaphylaxis symptoms before seeking medical help, but less than a third with a prescription for a self-injectable epinephrine shot used one. Epinephrine is the only rapidly effective treatment for anaphylaxis.

Nearly 66% thought their symptoms were due to a severe allergy attack and 86% thought time to seek medical attention was of the essence. Most (67%) traveled to the emergency room by car, 19% traveled by ambulance, and 14% by other means.

"Despite a reasonable level of awareness, there is still room for educational models to be implemented to expedite first aid and seek expert medical care for anaphylaxis," writes researcher Veena Manivannan, MD, of Rochester, Minn., in the study.