Surviving Anaphylaxis: Threat and Recovery
When you think of the words allergies and allergic reactions, your mind usually goes to a stuffed-up nose or sneezing. Those are a type of allergy called seasonal allergies. However, there is another form of allergy. Anaphylaxis is a food-related allergy that is deadly. Anaphylaxis can be food, medication, insect, or latex-related and affects every 1 in 50 people in the United States; that’s up to 5% of the population!
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition. As stated before, it can happen when someone eats a certain food, takes medication, gets stung or bitten by an insect, or even puts on a pair of latex gloves and can occur within seconds of coming into contact with the thing they are allergic to. Anaphylaxis causes your immune system to release a bunch of chemicals that can cause the body to go into shock. This shock is called anaphylactic shock. When having an Anaphylactic reaction, your pressure suddenly drops, and your airways get narrower and narrower, making breathing very hard. If not treated, it can cause Anaphylactic shock, which can cause your heart and lungs to shut down. In order to treat an allergic reaction, you have to give a shot of epinephrine which is like an adrenaline shot. If anaphylaxis is not treated, it can be fatal.
The classic symptoms are difficulty in breathing, swelling, coughing, throat closing, and hives. But those are just classic symptoms, and there are many more. I can tell you what it feels like from a personal perspective; yes, you feel the coughing and the throat closing, but for the patient, things are different: Your heart feels like it's racing and you are coughing and struggling to breathe, your head is spinning, but it's not just because of the reaction, it’s your own fear of dying. When epinephrine is given, these symptoms start to fade; however, new sensations arise. Epinephrine relaxes the airway muscles and increases your heart rate. Due to the increase in heart rate, you can experience shakiness, lightheadedness, and the sensation of your heart racing. After using epinephrine, you should always go to the ER to be monitored, as sometimes allergic reaction symptoms come back.
On June 20th, 2021, I survived an Anaphylactic allergic reaction. I went to my favorite coffee shop, which is typically very aware of food allergies. I am allergic to dairy, so I always get coffee with soy or almond milk. However, on this day, my coffee got switched with someone else's hot chocolate. I got home and started to eat breakfast with my family; when I took a sip of the drink, I instantly realized something was not right. No more than five seconds later, my throat began to itch, not a dull itch but an itch that could not be relieved. I grabbed my EpiPen and gave it to myself, something I had never done before. I was driven to the emergency room and immediately put on a heart monitor and a blood pressure monitor. I stayed in the hospital for three hours, being monitored every 30 minutes. After I was sent home, the reaction was over, and I was safe.
Everyone always asks me, "how long does it take to recover from an allergic reaction?" My answer is physically, it takes three days, but mentally, it can take as much time as you need. Four months later, I am still recovering from the reaction. I still get scared when drinking coffee. I triple-check and make sure that they made it right. I can feel my heart rate go up ever so slightly as I take the first sip of a coffee. I don't think that will ever stop. My biggest advice to people recovering from an allergic reaction is don't push yourself. I made the mistake of pushing myself to go hang out with friends, or go to work the first few days after a reaction. An allergic reaction is traumatic; let your mind and body take a few days to start to heal before jumping back into your normal life. If you need a distraction from what happened, find something relaxing to do, like reading a book, watch a movie, draw, paint, sing! Whatever you feel like doing that won't strain your mind and body too much. Another thing that I did which is extraordinarily goofy, is I bought colorfully patterned (children’s) bandaids to put over the bruise that I had on my leg because of the epipen. The bright colors and happy patterns made me smile, and it distracted me from thinking about what had happened.
In the end; remember, recovery doesn't have a time limit. However long it takes you to start feeling "normal" again, that's how long it takes. Be gentle with yourself, and don't push it.
To the people who are supporting someone who just had a reaction, don't give up on them. Yes, they may be very scared for a while but put yourself in their shoes; they just had a life-threatening experience. Be there to support them if they need someone to talk to about it, or more often than not, if they need someone to distract them by making them laugh. This helped me tremendously; knowing that there are people there that love you and want to keep you safe has helped so much. Also, remember that it's going to take time until they feel comfortable being around different foods or being around the place where they had an allergic reaction. Be patient with them. I am forever grateful to the friends who have been by my side through my recovery.
For the people who are recovering from an allergic reaction, you can do this! You are not weak for being afraid to live life normally again, and more importantly, your allergic reaction does not define you. Take this experience and teach other people more about food allergies so that what happened to you can be prevented for other people. You are strong, and as long as you have a support system to help you get through it, you will overcome it and eventually go back to living life the way you always have.