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Reducing risks: What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis (pronounced anna-fill-axis) is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death.

At the start of a reaction, any of the following symptoms may appear:
Face: itching, redness, swelling of face and tongue
Airway: coughing, trouble breathing, swallowing, or speaking
Stomach: stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea
Total Body: hives, rash, itching, swelling, weakness, paleness, sense of doom, dizziness, loss of consciousness

The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person and from reaction to reaction in the same person. The most dangerous symptoms involve breathing difficulties or a drop in blood pressure (recognizable through fainting, dizziness, etc.). Early symptoms should never be ignored. Concerns expressed by an allergic individual should always be taken seriously.


CAUSES FOR ANAPHYLACTIC REACTION
Anaphylaxis is a growing health concern. It is estimated that food allergy alone affects up to 4% of the total population and up to 6% of young children (based on U.S. data).


FOOD
Any food can cause anaphylaxis. Currently (2009) in Canada, the following nine foods account for more than 90% of all reactions:
- milk
- egg
- peanut
- tree nuts (almond, Brazil nut, cashew, macadamia nut, pecan, pine nut, pistachio, walnut, hazelnut)
- shellfish (e.g. scallops, clams, lobster, shrimp, etc.)
- fish
- soy
- sesame seed
- wheat
OTHER
- Insect stings (e.g. yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, honey bees)
- Medication
- Latex
- Immunotherapy ("allergy shots")
- Exercise (generally when combined with foods that may not otherwise cause a reaction)

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