Be S.A.F.E. Action Guide for Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe allergic reaction that affects many parts of the body at once. For some people, especially those who have asthma, it can take just one to two minutes for symptoms of an allergic reaction to develop into anaphylaxis. That’s why it is so important to know how to respond.

Allergists and emergency physicians have teamed up to create the Be S.A.F.E. action guide to help you remember steps to take during and after an allergic emergency. Click here to read or print the new Be S.A.F.E. brochure, which describes each of the action steps:


Seek immediate medical help. Call 911 and get to the nearest emergency facility at the first sign of anaphylaxis, even if you have already administered epinephrine, the drug used to treat severe allergic reactions. If you have had an anaphylactic reaction in the past, you are at risk of future reactions.


Identify the Allergen

Think about what you might have eaten or come in contact with – food, insect sting, medication, latex – to trigger an allergic reaction. It is particularly important to identify the cause because the best way to prevent anaphylaxis is to avoid its trigger.


Follow up with a specialist

Ask your doctor for a referral to an allergist/immunologist, a physician who specializes in treating asthma and allergies. It is important that you consult an allergist for testing, diagnosis and ongoing management of your allergic disease.


Carry Epinephrine for emergencies

Kits containing fast-acting, self-administered epinephrine are commonly prescribed for people who are at risk of anaphylaxis. Make sure that you carry an epinephrine kit with you at all times, and that family and friends know of your condition, your triggers and how to use epinephrine. Consider wearing an emergency medical bracelet or necklace identifying yourself as a person at risk of anaphylaxis. Teachers and other caregivers should be informed of children who are at risk for anaphylaxis and know what to do in an allergic emergency.

What is an allergic emergency?

The medical term for an allergic emergency is anaphylaxis. The condition is as serious as it sounds.  Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening, severe allergic reaction that comes on suddenly and may affect many parts of the body at once.

Who is at risk?

People who have allergies and/or asthma are at increased risk, but anyone can have a severe allergic reaction. 

What are the symptoms?

•Hives, itchiness and redness on the skin, lips, eyelids or other parts of the body 

•Wheezing and/or difficulty breathing 

•Swelling of the tongue, throat and nose

•Nausea, stomach cramping and vomiting or diarrhea 

•Dizziness and fainting or loss of consciousness, which can lead to shock and heart failure 

Some or all of these symptoms can occur within minutes after exposure, or may develop up to two hours later. Sometimes a second reaction may occur eight to 12 hours after the first. The sooner the reaction is treated, the less severe it is likely to become.

What are the causes?

The most common triggers of an allergic emergency include:

• Food. Peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, pecans, cashews, walnuts), fish, shellfish, cow’s milk and eggs top the list among food triggers, causing about half of all cases of anaphylaxis each year.  Peanut or tree nut allergies are the most common. Each year, about 100 Americans die from food-related anaphylaxis.

• Insect sting. More than 500,000 Americans go to hospital emergency rooms each year because of allergic reactions to stings from insects such as bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants. Insect stings cause at least 40 deaths in the United States each year.

• Medication. Penicillin is the medication that most commonly causes anaphylaxis, but other drugs such as aspirin, anesthetics, antibiotics and pain relievers like ibuprofen also can cause a reaction. 

• Latex. Up to 6 percent of Americans are allergic to the latex used in disposable gloves, intravenous tubes, syringes and other products, with health care workers, other workers who routinely wear gloves and children with spina bifida at greatest risk of latex-induced anaphylaxis.

How is it treated?

Most severe allergic emergencies or anaphylactic reactions are treated with a shot of the anti-allergy drug epinephrine (adrenaline). Other treatments also may be needed depending on the symptoms.

Reproduced from: ACAAI