Understanding Anaphylaxis -- Diagnosis & Treatment

Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on June 04, 2020

How Is Anaphylaxis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will know if you’ve had this severe allergic reaction is by its symptoms. They’ll also ask about your exposure to things known to cause allergies, also known as triggers.

The symptoms include:

It’s hard to know if you’re in line for a severe allergic reaction before it happens. But if you have any history of allergic reactions -- mild, moderate, or severe -- it’s more likely you’ll have a severe reaction in the future.

Your doctor will use a series of tests to check how you react to things that cause allergies. Some tests just examine your blood, but others involve exposing you to a bit of the stuff that might cause your allergy:

  • Skin prick or scratch testing: The doctor places a small drop of allergen on your skin and scratches but doesn’t break the skin’s surface.
  • Intradermal, or percutaneous testing: The allergens go under your skin and the doctor watches for signs of an allergic reaction.


How Is Anaphylaxis Treated?

Epinephrine is the main treatment. Inhalers and antihistamines won't work. Epinephrine reverses the more serious problems with breathing (wheezing and shortness of breath and the dangerous drop in blood pressure seen in anaphylaxis). The faster it is given, the better.

If you’re allergic to insect stings or any of the foods that cause anaphylaxis, or if you ever have had an anaphylactic reaction, ask your doctor to prescribe an epinephrine injection kit. Carry two injections at all times, and know how to use them. Make sure your family members, friends, and colleagues know the signs of anaphylaxis and can give you an injection if they need to. Don’t hesitate to use it if you start to show any symptoms of anaphylaxis. It won’t hurt you to take the shot as a precaution.

What Should I Do in an Emergency?

If someone looks like they’re having an anaphylactic reaction, call for emergency help, even if they’ve taken epinephrine. They might need more doses or other medical treatment. Anyone who has this type of response should be checked by medical personnel. After getting epinephrine, steroid drugs (like prednisone or methylprednisolone) and antihistamines can also help calm the reaction and prevent the return of symptoms.


If the person stops breathing, perform CPR right away, if you know how. Continue CPR until the person begins to breathe again or emergency responders take over.

Certain medicines, like beta-blockers for high blood pressure and ACE inhibitors for heart disease can make it harder to treat an anaphylactic reaction. If you’ve have had a severe allergic reaction and are taking either of these drugs, ask your doctor if you should change your medication.

WebMD Medical Reference



Joint Task Force on Practice Parameters: "The diagnosis and management of anaphylaxis practice parameter: 2010 Update."

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: "Anaphylaxis."

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: "Anaphylaxis."

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Anaphylaxis: Overview.”

Mayo Clinic: “Anaphylaxis: Symptoms.”


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